Guest column by Adam Brandt, Geophysics and Political Science
How do we make change? We become the change. Gandhi showed the world that the people, united, will never be defeated. Last Sunday, 400,000 people in New York City and even more globally (2,600 total marches across the world) united for climate justice in the People’s Climate March, demanding world leaders take strong action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.N. Global Summit happening this week.
There was a march in Salt Lake City, but I chose to attend the New York City march because I wanted to see this movement up close, experience the thrill of marching for a single purpose with thousands of diverse people across the world, and learn more about how man-made climate change is affecting us. Wildfires, floods, droughts, extreme weather, ocean acidification, land desertification, sea level rise from glacial and sea ice melting—all of these are amplified by burning fossil fuels. Scientific evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of these facts. If fossil fuels are not regulated, climate change will continue to break down our life support systems. For Americans, it will be the worst suffering since the Great Depression. People across the world have already suffered greatly from floods, wildfires, and rising oceans, all occurring at greater frequency or faster speeds because of increased global temperatures.
The march was a legendary intersection of hundreds of environmental activist groups across the world, along with numerous religious groups, political parties, students, indigenous tribes, scientists, retirees, lobbyists, NGOs, and thousands of New Yorkers. Across the world, similar marches took place in megacities like London, but none as large as NYC. Before this gathering, many climate movement efforts were localized and lacked worldwide attention from mass media. The divestment movement is a branch of the climate movement, and it is important because, ultimately, the only way the end climate change is by ending investments in fossil fuels. At the youth convergence, I learned that 400 campus divestment campaigns exist at universities across the U.S., and this convergence united them, and others, in the Divestment Student Network. In the days before the march, activists and leaders from around the world were able to meet each other, tell stories, and strategize the movement going forward.
Leading up to the march, and at the event, many activists gave speeches. One notable activist was 350.org leader Bill McKibben, who spoke at several sold out venues in Manhattan. I attended one of his speeches and was moved by his urgency, and the enthusiasm for change in me was unimaginable. I also heard the leader of the Pacific Island Warriors speak out about his islands, which are disappearing from sea level rise caused by the burning of fossil fuels around the world. Heartbreaking stories from people that are still being affected by the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast, and victims of fracking in Minisink, N.Y., made me realize that fossil fuel use leaves everlasting impacts on people and places. Survivors of Hurricane Sandy told stories of heroics and tragedy. People from Ferguson, Mo. came to spread word of the injustices they have experienced this past year and to join in the march for the climate. As we marched, a 13-year-old from an indigenous tribe in Colorado swelled our emotions with a hip-hop song about climate justice. The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and former Vice President Al Gore were in attendance as well.
An all-day affair, the march began on the west side of Central Park, then moved through Time Square, and finally pushed out to the west coast of Manhattan. I marched with 50,000 other students from across the nation. I can speak for us all when I say that not a single person regretted missing class. We owned the streets that day. Armed with thousands of signs, flags, banners, noisemakers, and drums, we chanted and sang for a better future. In the lead of the student section was a banner reading “Our Future, Our Choice” and throughout the march were signs that read “Youth Choose Climate Justice.” Other signs included: “People over Profit,” “There is no Planet B,” “System Change not Climate Change,” “Jobs, Justice, Clean Energy,” and many others.
At 12:58 p.m. we became completely silent, remembering those who have and are suffering from climate change around the world. And then, at 1 p.m., we erupted in a noise that blew the top off those skyscrapers and was loud enough to tell the U.N. that we demand change. It was a true display of what democracy looks and feels like, and I will always remember that moment.
One thing was very clear: This is just the beginning. The People’s Climate March was a big splash in the complex geopolitical pool, and its ripples will be felt as organizations divest from fossil fuel companies and the world moves to cleaner energy sources. Fossil fuel companies now face a growing opposition with unstoppable power, the people, who have just shown that they will rise up to demand climate justice. Since the march, the Rockefeller Foundation has declared a full divestment from fossil fuels. The climate movement is more organized and energized than ever before. he pressure is on our world leaders now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or face even larger demonstrations and mobilizations. This week, world leaders have a chance to debate bold actions to mitigate the effects of global warming, which will hopefully lead to the adoption of a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of the 1990 levels at next year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Turning away from fossil fuels is within reach. We would enjoy greater public health and fewer premature deaths. Cleaner air lets us all breathe easier. Renewable energy in inexhaustible and the technology is capable of powering our entire society. Climate policy would create numerous jobs, while boosting our local and national economy.
Adam Brandt is an undergraduate student in Geophysics and Political Science.