An Environmentalist in NYC: 2 marches and a climate treaty event

By Laurèn DeMates.

What a weekend in NYC, especially for an environmentalist. Kicking off Climate Week NYC and the UN Climate Summit, I attended an event titled ‘A Global Climate Treaty: Why the U.S. Must Lead,’ which in title and in spirit aligned with our recent post ‘6 Reasons the U.S. Should Step it Up and Lead on Climate.’ Speakers included local government officials who announced exciting plans for NYC on climate, professors across disciplines, Bill McKibbin of 350.org, and Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and currently part of the U.N Special Envoy for Climate Change. All speakers contributed valuable and unique perspectives to the event as well as furthered the sentiment that it was time to act on climate.

Especially motivating for me was Ambassador Marlene Moses of Nauru, who chairs the Alliance of the Small Island States (AOSIS) at the United Nations. Moses outlined a 7th reason that the U.S. should step it up and lead on climate and reminded the audience why it was vital to attend the People’s Climate March the following day, Sunday, September 21st. The reminder she provided was that small island states are already feeling the effects of climate change as their homes and livelihoods are being threatened from impacts such as rising sea levels. These small islands are struggling to get their voices heard by the international community and they didn’t even contribute to the current level of carbon in the atmosphere, which has already surpassed the 350 ppm cap to avoid a 2°C (3.6°F) increase in temperature. It is our responsibility here in the U.S., to represent these people and pressure our government to truly commit to addressing climate change. Fully charged from this event, I was ready for Sunday’s march.

‘To change everything, we need everyone’ was a one-liner from the People’s Climate March organizers that I especially agree with. And we are on the right track with 400,000 attendees as the final count for the NYC march with 2,808 solidarity events in 166 countries. Energy was high and positive across different groups of people who teamed up and ranged from environmentally focused NGOs to Veterans for Peace to political organizations to entire families to indigenous communities and Hurricane Sandy victims on the front lines. Grist put together a great piece, ‘Meet a Climate Marcher,’ on the various people from all walks of life that came together for climate change. The event was well-organized with different blocks down the west side of Central Park suggested for groups with similar perspectives. Due to high attendance, there was a few hours of waiting around to get started and the climate march ended up being a ‘climate stroll,’ but overall the day was a success. Seeing the commitment and creativity of my fellow marchers was inspiring, as well as the respect that marchers showed for each other, whether it was discussing the issues or dancing along with the music being played by various instruments. All in all, the march was a success in participant turnout, peacefulness, and communication of the broad message that people want action on climate change.

Today’s Flood Wall Street sit-in seemed to have a different feel from the get-go with less organization and a strong premise that I think alienates the climate cause a bit (one reason attendees were in the thousands compared to the hundreds of thousands yesterday). Although there is cross-over between People’s Climate March and Flood Wall St., the message ‘End Capitalism’ isn’t necessarily a constructive message to rally behind. Of course, I believe in economic justice including reducing poverty and inequality through the private sector and through policy, but the organizers of Flood Wall Street could have approached the march with a more strategic message; I almost think of it as a missed opportunity. Instead of promoting the collapse of our economic system, making all or nothing demands to private companies or heckling at cops (who were actually very restrained all day despite a pepper spray incident), protestors could have rallied with specific proposals for the banking institutions they despise. With a more structured and realistic message the march could have attracted assistance from seasoned NGOs and think-tanks who have the expertise and tools to present to Wall St. institutions how to incorporate the consideration of climate risk into investments and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

3 events and 3 varying experiences. One factor that did transcend across events, and I hope as climate events continue will continue to be addressed, is an emphasis on sustainable behavior of participants. Just brief reminders to use reusable containers and pick up after themselves I think would go along way. Along the same lines, I think a lot of the remnants of all events were paper flyers. Many people approached me wanting to give me flyers announcing other events, and I take them because I am actually interested or I just kind of feel bad saying no, but it does bother me. Why are environmentalists printing out all this paper to announce to other environmentalists events that are aimed in one way or another to combat climate change which is fueled by carbon emissions which is contributed to by deforestation which is partially caused by the use of wood-based products such as paper? I think all environmentalists need to keep that connection in mind and utilize social media a bit more. Overall, it was a fulfilling 3 days and an inspiration to see so many people care about climate change.

As the UN Climate Summit and side-events keep international leaders busy, I hope that the sentiment in New York stays ignited with hope and dedication to acting on climate. I do feel that we are at a tipping point in the dialogue and it can no longer be denied that people want action. For those of us outside the walls of the UN, exercising our roles as environmentally and socially consumers and voters can keep up the momentum on climate to systematically motivate the private sector and policy to internalize climate risk. And although the approach the Flood Wall St. group is using may not be ideal in my book, economic equality is a key part of the climate that needs to be factored in when discussing responsibility between developed and developing countries as well as the winners and losers of domestic policies. The reports keep coming in that climate change mitigation and adaptation are not contradictory of economic growth, we just need a realistic premise to not be written off as hippies and anarchists to be able to have dialogue and move the agenda ahead.

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