Hunger striker Eric Tien says they will not eat until Nancy Pelosi agrees to a one hour public meeting to publicly acknowledge that we are in a climate emergency
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us.
Extinction Rebellion is pushing the parameters of protest, they say, to save our lives and the life of our planet. It’s fueled mostly by young people. They see our earth is on the verge of economic, social, and human collapse because of climate change. That the powers to be will not address. For the radical action that many of us know it’s going to take. They sat in at Nancy Pelosi’s office because her and her Democrats’ response has been too tepid. Now a number of Climate Rebellion activists have declared a hunger strike until Nancy Pelosi agrees to meet with them, in public, for an hour. They want Democrats to pass legislation that acknowledges that the acts of fossil fuel on our climate, what it’s done, is a disaster we’re facing, and we have to make radical measures to change that.
One of those hunger strikers is Eric Tien, who wrote this op-ed you see in The Guardian, and is in the tenth day of his hunger strike and joins us now from his home. Welcome Eric, good to have you with us here on The Real News.
ERIC TIEN: Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER: So when you wrote this op-ed for The Guardian, you started out by saying, the title was, “My hunger strike could be deadly. But I’m willing to risk that for climate action.” In other words, you’re saying you’re willing to literally die in order to save billions. So talk a bit about what is pushing you to take this radical action.
ERIC TIEN: Well, I’ve had a pretty privileged life so far, and I’ve had the chance to explore many of the… I’ve had a chance to travel, and explore different job fields, and just explore my interests. And right now I feel relatively satisfied with what I’ve accomplished in my life, and I just want to devote my life to service right now. And in terms of climate action, I have been… Before the hunger strike, I was reading up on the science literature for two weeks, and realized it’s much, much worse than I thought. A couple of years ago, I have a physics friend who was telling me how bad it’s going to be. And I just kind of brushed him off saying, “No problem, human genius will solve it,” that kind of thing. And I realize it’s much, much worse than I thought.
So I wanted to escalate to dramatic action. And in terms of a hunger strike, I just feel very passionate about it. And I feel whatever suffering I might experience in this hunger strike is nothing compared to what hundreds of millions of people experience right now. It’s nothing compared to what billions of people could be experiencing in the future. And it’s probably not that different from what I might experience in the future too if we don’t do anything. A recent U.S. Army report stated that they… It’s possible that the national power grid collapses by the year 2040, and that the U.S. military pretty much collapses too with mission failure in their bases around the world.
MARC STEINER So, a couple of things. What is it… There are not many of you doing this at the moment. They started out with many other people doing it. But they are down to like, I don’t know what, ten or twelve people around the world that are on a hunger strike now. Am I right about that or wrong about that?
ERIC TIEN: That’s probably accurate.
MARC STEINER: Okay.
ERIC TIEN: Although we’re not sure about DRC. Apparently fifty plus people started the hunger strike in DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo–
MARC STEINER: For the same thing.
ERIC TIEN: Right. Yes.
MARC STEINER: So talk a bit about what it is you want. What do you want Nancy Pelosi to do? And why are you on this… You are on the hunger strike demanding a meeting with her. Specifically, what do you expect her to do?
ERIC TIEN: So right now there is a resolution to declare a climate emergency just sitting in committee. And as Speaker of the House, we believe Speaker Pelosi has the power to push that through and put a vote to it. And Democrats have control of the House. They should be able to pass it, but they refuse to. So that’s the first demand.
MARC STEINER: But you’d, would you want her to meet with you in public for an hour in front of a camera? Am I right about that?
ERIC TIEN: Right, right.
MARC STEINER: So what do you expect to do that maybe… I’m just curious what this push is about, because what you’re doing here… Clearly this is not condemning at all, because I think hunger strikes have been used for a long time now for people to get what they demand in this society but nobody’s paying attention. Which is why I’m sure you all are doing it. But what do you want? Why do you want her to have a public meeting with you, and what do you expect to come out of that public meeting? I mean, why take this extreme measure which could end in, I hate to say it, could end in your and other people’s deaths.
ERIC TIEN: We want to have that conversation with her to show to the American public what’s going on and with our government. The Democratic Party claims to be the party for the people. They believe in the climate science. And recently they’d passed a bill to aim for net zero emissions by the year 2050. And to me that’s almost a slap in the face. It’s almost the same as denying the science, because it won’t matter by the year 2050. We need much more dramatic action. And so this conversation is to ask her why she isn’t doing more and demonstrate to the public what the Democratic Party is actually capable of without us pressuring them.
MARC STEINER: So what specifically do you want them to do? I mean when you go on a hunger strike, clearly you want to get something done here. And one of the things I read in one of your documents, which I think most people don’t even realize, is that is that the tax breaks for fossil fuel corporations is more than the U.S. spends on its military budget, or on education, or on anything else. So clearly, you’re pushing for something here. What is it you want them to literally do for you to end your hunger strike?
ERIC TIEN: So I will end it once we get that meeting, personally. But in terms of Extinction Rebellion, we have a few demands. The very, very ambitious demand is a government plan to go to net zero emissions by the year 2025.
MARC STEINER: 2025. We’re talking about five years from now.
ERIC TIEN: It means a complete transformation of the entire country. And lots of people don’t think it’s possible. But I think with enough will, it could be possible. So we were going to push for that.
MARC STEINER: Well you know, when people say things are impossible… What you’re doing right now makes me think of the world I lived in when I was a little younger than you are. And we were sitting in and on freedom rides in the South and people said take it slow. This can’t go fast. You can’t stop segregation. Have to take a while to end it. And what you were saying about our climate and where our future is, there’s no time. There was no time to wait then, and clearly what you’re talking about is there’s no time to wait now
ERIC TIEN: That’s correct. I guess a lot of people got into the climate movement from the IPCC report. That was 2018. So they like to say this number, we have twelve years to stop climate action. But that’s just completely wrong. We cannot wait twelve years and then decide to do something, because global warming depends on cumulative CO2 emissions. So every year that we emit CO2 is a problem. And we need to start reducing it now. You can’t just go from 100%, normal emissions, to zero emissions. You need to build infrastructure and you need to have policies. It takes a lot of time. So we’re ten years too late, twenty years too late. And to reach net zero by the year 2025, I think, will require sacrifices from everybody.
MARC STEINER: And you’re on the verge of making an ultimate sacrifice here. I mean, how, in this process, just personally, how are you doing? I mean this is day number ten.
ERIC TIEN: Right.
MARC STEINER: I’m sure you’re feeling weak, and your stomach is in a very weird place. So talk about, how do you feel?
ERIC TIEN: So yesterday it was pretty great. I woke up in the morning and some of the hunger strikers from London sent me a video, expressing their love and support. And just from that moment on, I was just like… I felt full of peace. I definitely feel less angry and sad than I did the first couple of days of the hunger strike. At that period, I was very passionate about this, and very angry that Nancy Pelosi’s staff were just stonewalling us for the most part. But yesterday I came to a sense of peace. I realized, well it probably is too late for many people, and there’s only so much I can do. This is kind of what humanity is going to reap because–
MARC STEINER: Of what they’ve sewn.
ERIC TIEN: Yeah. As a species we have let this happen. And, you know, most people don’t have the power and responsibility to affect it, but everybody has a little bit of responsibility. And we are going to… Resources will dwindle, and we will have to learn what it means to be human and learn how to cooperate if we want to survive.
MARC STEINER: So you intend to keep this hunger strike all through the Thanksgiving holiday. I know there’ll be demonstrations outside of Nancy Pelosi’s home by Extinction Rebellion and others. Am I correct about that? Right?
ERIC TIEN: Yeah. That was amazing. Overnight they organized a solidarity hunger strike. I guess it’s happening right now in her district office. Then tomorrow, a smaller group of them, who are I guess more dedicated, are spending five hours of their Thanksgiving holding a vigil, maybe a die-in hunger strike, outside of Speaker Pelosi’s house. Yeah.
MARC STEINER: So what we will do from our end here, obviously we’re going to, we’re going to call Nancy Pelosi’s office and try to get a statement from her, see if she, however she responds to this. And we do wish you well on your hunger strike to stay as healthy as you can during this process. It takes a lot of courage to do what you all are doing. And I’m going to check in with you over the holiday. I’ll check in with you on Monday for another conversation to see where all this is. And we’re there for you, and for us.
ERIC TIEN: Yeah, we’re all in this together. And I do want to say to Speaker Pelosi that I respect her a lot. I know she’s incredibly smart and works incredibly hard. And I fully support the impeachment hearings. And I hope we get to work together to build a better future.
MARC STEINER: Right. She’s a very smart, tough Baltimore girl. She needs to stand up for climate and our future. And Eric Tien, I, again, thank you for your courage and your dedication. Good luck this weekend, and we’ll be staying in touch and talk to you on Monday.
ERIC TIEN: Thank you, Marc.
MARC STEINER: All right. Take care. So once again, we thank Eric Tien for being with us, and we’re going to follow this. These young people like Eric and others who are on a hunger strike to save our planet, to force a meeting with Nancy Pelosi. We’ll be touching base with her office and coming back to talk with Eric and others on Monday to see where this is going. And I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Stay strong. Have fun with your families.
I’m Marc Steiner here with The Real News Network. Take care.