Encouraging Reflections on the Monumental People's Climate March
By Paul Walker and Matt de la Houssaye
Climate change continues to threaten the planet and humankind. As the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported this year, increasing carbon emissions from China, India, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, threaten life as we know it today. Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, agricultural production is down in many areas due to drought, overall temperatures are rising, and climatic disruptions are intensifying, all causing enormous negative impacts on the earth and humanity. We were therefore very committed to joining the “People’s Climate March” in New York City on Sunday, September 21st, and helping to represent Green Cross International, its US national affiliate, Global Green USA, and the other 30+ Green Cross affiliates which have all been working for two decades now to raise public attention and action on climate change.
While predictions for the march talked about “tens of thousands of people” joining the demonstration that day, we realized as we entered the New York subway at Penn Station (34th Street) on Sunday morning and saw the packed platforms, that the turnout appeared to be much heavier. By the time we reached 81st Street on the west side of Central Park, towards the tail end of the march, we witnessed the vast throngs of marchers and could barely even exit the subway! We squeezed into the crowds which covered both sidewalks and the street and waited for the march to begin.
The crowds, although overwhelming, were all in high spirits and anxious “to speak truth to power,” to march that afternoon and tell the world leaders, convening in two days at the United Nations to discuss climate change, that we wanted action, not just words, to help address this growing global crisis. The marchers were a remarkably diverse mix of young and old including infants in strollers, high school and college groups, and elderly with walkers and canes. Many demonstrators were also costumed to represent melting icebergs, coal-burning plants, “drowning clowns,” and other innovative characters. Drummers were beating out invigorating rhythms, and innumerable signs and banners demanded “no nukes,” “no Keystone XL pipeline,” “no LNG ports and tankers,” “energy conservation,” “sustainable energy,” “clean air and water,” “divestment in fossil fuels,” “no Planet B,” and many other calls for tackling climate change, protecting the environment, and improving security, safety, and public health.
The back end of the march at 81st Street did not begin moving until about 2 in the afternoon, given the enormous crowds in the 30 or more blocks ahead of us. We all welcomed the opportunity to begin moving after standing in place for over two hours, and marched down the west side of Central Park, then down Avenue of the Americas past Rockefeller Plaza and Radio City Music Hall, well into the late afternoon. The whole march, some 40 blocks long, was very peaceful and joyous, with everyone sharing snacks and water, and well organized by the City of New York. It reminded me (Paul) very much of the large and historic anti-nuclear march my wife, Debbie, and I, along with our first son, Ian, at age 18 months, joined in New York City on June 12, 1982, to protest US President Ronald Reagan’s dangerous nuclear weapons build-up and threats of nuclear war. Just as that large public demonstration, with well over one million marchers, led to Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreeing to nuclear abolition at the October 1986 Reykjavik Summit, we expect that this historic public outpouring of commitment and concern, matched by hundreds of other demonstrations around the world, will put pressure on the world’s leaders and parliaments to take climate change seriously and act accordingly.
We all need to think globally, but act locally, and some 400,000 or more of us did this past weekend in New York City. As many of our signs and statements on Sunday underlined, we need to act now, not just continue debating until it’s all too late.