People are still marching to save the climate, but with less hope

May 21, 2017

Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide rallied for the People’s Climate March on April 29, but the mood was bleaker than the First People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.

In September 2014, nearly half a million people crammed the avenues of New York for the first march to urge nations of the world to take bold action on global warming. It was the eve of the UN Climate Summit and PRI’s Living on Earth team was there. At the intersection of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue the atmosphere was joyful, almost like a carnival parade.

The organizers wanted a “big tent,” because what happens to the climate affects everybody. More than 50,000 students marched. Over 1,500 different organizations were there — a strong labor contingent, including many from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, brandishing brooms and mops. There were anti-nuclear campaigners, Veterans for Peace, many different faith groups and Native Americans. Britney Anster represented the Haliwa-Saponi nation of Hollister, North Carolina.

“It’s important because we are nature,” Anster said. “We are the air, the Earth — not just indigenous people, but all people. We share this communal Earth, and we’re here fighting for climate justice, not just for us, but for all people, especially our future generations.”

Native Americans and Canadian First Nations were leading the march, along with some of the other communities most affected by global warming — island nations and people on the front lines who’ve already experienced weather extremes; people like Kathy Sykes from Jackson, Mississippi.

“I’m here because we as a people have to come together to do something about climate change,” Sykes said. “Mississippi has seen the brunt of it with Hurricane Katrina. We still have not recovered. We’ve had a big oil spill in the Gulf Coast. It is terrible. So we’re here fighting, trying to do whatever we can to draw attention to the need to stop climate change and save our world.”

It seemed the nations were listening. The size and determination of the People’s March helped spur the momentum toward the crucial UN Climate Conference of Parties, COP 21, in Paris in December 2015. Urgency, diplomacy and arm-twisting all helped persuade nearly 200 countries to sign onto the final Paris Agreement.

“This is a tremendous victory for all of our citizens, not for any one country or any one bloc, but for everybody here who has worked so hard to bring us across the finish line,” said then-Secretary of State John Kerry when the agreement was signed. “It’s a victory for all of the planet and for future generations.”

His optimism was shared by the climate change commissioner for the European Union, Miguel Arias Cañete.

“With this agreement, we're going to stop global warming below the 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees,” Cañete said. “Without it, the temperature will be increasing year by year: Now, we are on a pathway to 3 degrees. But if we raise the level of ambition over time, we will be able to stop global warming below 2 degrees, and that's what the world needs.”

But now, in 2017, the level of ambition to tackle the threat of global warming — or even to accept scientific consensus about it — seems to have evaporated in Washington. A year after some 200 countries signed the landmark Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration has indicated it might pull the US out of the accord.

It was partly disappointment at new administration policies, and an increasing sense of the dangers of inaction that brought thousands back onto the streets in 370 communities in the US and across the world for another People’s Climate March on April 29.

“We are here because there is no planet B. There’s no backup plan if we ruin this Earth that we have,” said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond at the rally in Boston. “No matter how many divisions there are across lines of race, religion, class, gender expression, immigration status — no matter how many divisions — we are bound together on this, one planet.”

Health workers, vegans, faith groups, teachers, students and activists for employment and climate justice joined worried citizens to rally for an end to fossil fuels and to raise the alarm about climate-related hazards that affect Boston and many coastal cities. There were fiery speeches and music, but overall a bleaker mood than the First People’s Climate March.

“That [first] march was just incredible. It was such an upswell of energy for the climate movement,” said one marcher. “Now, there’s more of a fear that things won’t be heard, even though we’re speaking. But there’s more of a need even now, I think, than in 2014. There’s more of a sense that we’re up against something really big.”

This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.


From Living on Earth ©2017 World Media Foundation