Climate Tipping Points and the Poor People’s Campaign

I returned home late last night from three days at a Beyond Extreme Energy leadership retreat and two days at the Poor Peoples Campaign Moral Action Congress, both held in Washington, DC. This morning my first task was to go through all of the email that had piled up over that time. One of them contained an extremely sobering news story from Reuters: The headline: Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early.

The story begins with this sentence: “Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.” It goes on to say, “With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilization in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.

“’Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,’ said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.”

Tipping points. Are there more than one that are relevant to our dire condition? I believe there are two others, technological tipping points and political tipping points.

This latest permafrost melt story is scientific evidence that, as Morgan says, we could be at the beginning of a climate tipping point right now.

Are we at a technological tipping point? I think so. Between the technological viability of wind, solar, electric vehicles and electric heat (and cooling) pumps, and the already-low prices on wind and solar and the coming-down prices for electric vehicles and heat pumps, as well as other emerging technologies, we have the tools we need right now to engage in the World War Two type of mobilization and economic transformation in a short period of time that we absolutely, critically need.

But what about a political tipping point? Could that be about to happen, too, or are we in the beginning of one already?

I believe we could well be. The Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC) event was one of the reasons I think this, others being the 2018 election results, the emergence in massive numbers of the youth-based and youth–led Sunrise Movement and international Youth Climate Strike, the explosion onto the political scene of the Green New Deal and the continually building support for it, the competition going on among the many Democratic Presidential candidates as to who has the best plan to address the climate crisis, and a decidedly more progressive orientation by most of those candidates.

What was it about the PPC event that makes it one of those pieces of evidence?

One is the power of the gathering. About 1000 people attended, from almost every state. It was a very multi-cultural event, with significant leadership from people of color, particularly in the person of the inspiring, articulate, visionary national leader Rev. William Barber II. It is so right that he is the leader of the PPC since he is without question in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., the originator of the first Poor People’s Campaign in 1968.

Yesterday morning Rev. Barber presented to the Congress “14 Steps to Moral Fusion Organizing.” It was the best speech I have ever heard laying out in very concrete detail what is necessary in order to build a multi-issue, multi-cultural, independent, progressive, spiritually-grounded, national united front with grassroots working people of all colors and cultures in leadership. He made it clear that the objective of the PPC is “not just about the next election,” as important as that is, and not just about Trump, as retrograde and reactionary as he and the Republicans are, but about a multi-issue progressive agenda which must be won through organizing, actions, including nonviolent direct action, and relating to elections.

How do the co-chairs of the PPC, Rev. Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, articulate the PPC mission? It is to “build a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people – to unite our country from the bottom up. There are 140 million poor and low-wealth people in the richest country in the world. We’re bringing together tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”

“Ecological devastation,” the climate emergency in particular, is not the central issue of the PPC, but it is one of the major articulated issues. For the PPC to understand that this is a major issue and that it must be included as one of their top priorities is very important, an example for other non-climate-focused groups to emulate, I would humbly suggest.

Through the PPC’s work and campaigns over the last two years it has developed the credibility such that nine of the candidates running for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination came to the first day of the Congress: Biden, Yang, Bennet, Williamson, Warren, Swalwell, Messam, Sanders and Harris. All spoke for four minutes and were then asked questions by Barber, Theoharis and a number of PPC members for about 25 minutes each. There were about a dozen TV cameras there.

Without a doubt, the issue of poverty, of 140 million US Americans poor or of low-wealth, was significantly propelled into the Presidential campaign. We will see which of the candidates pick up and run in a substantive way with it, but given who some of them are, it sure seems likely some will do so.

How are we going to address poverty? One major way, the most critical way, is via the Green New Deal route and the conscious creation of millions of decent-paying jobs as we rapidly get off fossil fuels and create a truly green economy. The PPC gets and supports this.

But the PPC also gets political mobilization. It’s what this “new unsettling force” did in the spring of last year, when “thousands of people in 40 states, for six consecutive weeks, gathered in state capitols across the country and in Washington, DC for nonviolent moral fusion direct action, weekly mass meetings, teach ins and cultural events. The result was 239 actions in 40 days with over 5,000 people presenting themselves for nonviolent civil disobedience and tens of thousands witnessing – the largest and most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in 21st century America.”

To make the next two years the political tipping point that they absolutely must be, we need: 1) a multi-cultural, multi-issue, grassroots-based, people of color led (with others) national movement, 2) a massive turnout on November 3, 2020 of women, people of color, young people, progressives and everyone else who understands that a second Trump term would be a catastrophe for the country and the world, 3) strategic nonviolent direct action, particularly at proposed new fossil fuel infrastructure locations as well as at other locations, that “keeps the pot boiling” and helps win some victories, 4) other mass demonstrations and events that make visual the determination and breadth of our movement of movements and, as a result, 5) a first 100 days of action by whoever replaces Trump, along with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, under massive pressure from below, which makes clear we ain’t playing, we’re serious about government of the people, by the people and for the people and the planet.

With such a result, we have a fighting chance of preventing full-out climate meltdown and bequeathing to those coming after us a world grounded in justice and love, one worth living in and fighting for.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at, and he can be followed on Twitter at