"Collaboration between Climate and Labor Can Help Address Environmental Justice Issues"


Kat Maier became a climate activist through coincidence - she was shocked to learn the state of the environment. She emphasizes that climate and labor need to work together.

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woman leading a protest with a banner behind her

This interview is part of our Labor & Climate series.

How did you get started with climate or labor activism? What convinced you to take action?

I got involved more through coincidence with a local Fridays for Future group while studying in Berlin, Germany in 2018. I did not know much about climate change at that time, but the more I learned the more I realized I could not NOT act. I could not believe how urgent the situation was, yet I hadn’t heard about it until then despite having access to a good education – and what that meant for all the other people that were unaware. I started understanding the root causes of climate change and how the same systems that led to this crisis have caused so many of our other societal injustices. Meaning that the struggles that are often treated as individual fights are deeply interconnected and need to be fought together.

Why do you think it’s important for climate and labor to work together?

Climate and labor are interdependent, and it's crucial for them to work together to create a sustainable and just future. By working together, they can address economic, environmental, and political challenges and ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy is equitable and inclusive.

Climate change affects everyone, but it disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. Workers in these communities are more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards and have limited access to green jobs. Collaboration between climate and labor can help address environmental justice issues by promoting policies that protect workers and communities from the negative impacts of climate change and ensure that green jobs are accessible to all.

Climate policies have significant economic implications, and they affect workers and communities. It's essential to ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy does not lead to job losses and economic hardships for workers and communities. Collaboration between climate and labor can help to address this issue by identifying and supporting policies that create green jobs and ensure a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Climate and labor have significant political power, and by working together, they can amplify their voices and influence policy decisions. Labor unions can leverage their collective bargaining power to negotiate for climate-friendly policies, while climate advocates can bring attention to the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for action.

What can the labor movement learn from climate activism? And vice versa – are there any lessons from the labor movement’s history that are relevant for climate activists?

I think climate and labor organizers can learn from each other's strategies and approaches to build a stronger and more inclusive movement for social and environmental justice. The labor movement has a long history from which much can be learned. Climate activists can learn from collective bargaining tactics to advocate for policies that benefit workers and create green jobs, and from political action strategies, such as lobbying, voter mobilization, and endorsements, that have successfully influenced policy decisions.

Climate activism has been largely driven by young people, who have been effective in using social media and other tools to build awareness and mobilize support. The labor movement can learn from the leadership of young climate activists and, as these climate organizers enter the workforce in ever larger numbers, engage more young workers in their campaigns.

Both movements have recognized the interconnectedness of social justice issues and have formed alliances with other social justice movements throughout their development. There’s still lots to learn in building a broader coalition for change and ensuring that the advocated policies address the needs of the most affected communities.

Both the climate movement and the labor movement face challenges that seem insurmountable at times. What do you look for in terms of inspiration that your goals are achievable?

Many things seem impossible until someone makes them possible. History is full of examples of seemingly insurmountable challenges that were overcome through collective action and perseverance. For climate issues, the urgency and scale of the crisis can sometimes be overwhelming, but they also mean that there’s no other choice than to keep going. There’s nothing to lose by continuing to fight and everything to lose by stopping.

When I feel like we’re not making any progress, I look back to when I started my activism. Just within those 5 years, climate has become a mainstream issue, a significant policy platform, an ever growing movement across the globe. We need to do much more and at a much faster pace, but I have hope that action will accelerate as more and more people are affected and engaged and technological breakthroughs are achieved.

Activism – both professional and as a volunteer – can be draining. How do you recharge, and what tips for “activist sustainability” do you have?

It can feel like a guilty pleasure to rest when there’s so much to do. But you can’t fight if you’re exhausted and you can’t give if you’re empty – and we need you in this for the long haul.

It sounds like any Instagram post, but base-line self-care like taking breaks, getting exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are the foundations to any sustainable activism. Find something that brings you joy and put time aside to enjoy it without guilt or multitasking.

Find a community. No one can do this work by themselves. Having a network of support can provide encouragement, inspiration, and a sense of belonging.

Celebrate successes! Activism can be a long and challenging journey, so it's important to celebrate successes along the way.

Is there something happening in the climate or labor space that you think isn’t getting the attention it deserves?

Youth have been held up as champions of the climate movement and are often named when people are asked what gives them hope. While acknowledging the energy, passion, and leadership of young people in the climate movement is important, relying solely on youth activism to solve the climate crisis is problematic for several reasons.

The climate crisis is an urgent and global problem that requires immediate and coordinated action from all sectors of society, including governments, businesses, and individuals of all ages. Focusing solely on youth activism ignores the fact that climate action requires the participation and support of people from all generations, especially since youth are oftentimes not in the positions to make the necessary changes.

Relying solely on youth activism can create a sense of complacency and abdication of responsibility from older generations, who may feel that climate action is not their problem to solve. This can lead to a lack of intergenerational dialogue and cooperation, which is essential for building a broad and inclusive climate movement.

Framing the climate crisis as a problem for young people to solve can also place undue pressure and burden on them. This can lead to burnout and mental health issues among young activists who are already struggling to cope with the immense scale and urgency of the climate crisis.

In summary, while acknowledging the important role of young people in the climate movement is essential, it is also important to recognize that climate action requires the participation and support of people of all ages, especially those currently in positions to take necessary action. The climate crisis is a global problem that requires urgent and coordinated action from all sectors of society, and intergenerational dialogue and cooperation are essential for building a broad and inclusive climate movement.