August 28th will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Some who know its historical significance don't realize that King's speech is also a remarkable piece of rhetoric. The speech drew its power from King's rich metaphors, such as his comparison of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to a promissory note that it was long past time for Americans to make good. "We have come to our nation's capital to cash a check."
King's speech drew its power from his deft use of alliteration and parallel structure, and his keen Baptist preacher's sense of cadence and sound. "I have a dream...that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood..."
But most of all, King's speech drew its power from the moral force of his demand that a nation's elected leaders right a glaring and egregious wrong: their failure to assure all Americans equal protection under the law.
Were he alive today, I believe that King would have demanded that our leaders act on climate. Social and economic justice was his cause, and the injustice of our present course can't be denied. From the heat wave that killed hundreds in Chicago to Hurricane Katrina killing thousands in the American South, people of color and the politically disenfranchised suffer disproportionate harm from extreme events that we can no longer dismiss as natural disasters.
In global terms, some of those most threatened by our carbon pollution -- including indigenous people of the far north, residents of the low-lying Maldive Islands nation, and the hundreds of millions of people who live in low-lying areas near the Indian Ocean -- face a climate crisis not of their making.