For one week in late September, New York City will be the center of gravity for the fight to confront climate change.
On Sunday, September 21st, a climate march through midtown Manhattan will kick off a week of high-profile climate events in the Big Apple. Promoted as an effort to bring unprecedented attention to climate change, the gathering comes just as as international climate negotiations ramp up in a major push toward a new global accord. The People’s Climate March, being called the “largest climate march in history” by organizers, will potentially draw over a hundred thousand people to walk through Manhattan and show a level of demand for action not seen since the era of Civil Rights marches and anti-Vietnam protests.
Two days after the march, a United Nations summit on the climate crisis will bring together world leaders, business executives, and activist groups in an attempt to galvanize action for a global climate deal to follow the Kyoto Protocol. While not an official U.N. negotiating session, leaders have been invited to announce “significant and substantial initiatives to help move the world toward a path that will limit global warming.”
The third major undertaking in this three-pronged climate attack is Climate Week NYC, from 9/22 through 9/28, the sixth annual iteration of the event that features around 100 events, activities, and high-profile meetings across the city. It is put together by The Climate Group, which includes business and government organizations focusing on the rapid scale-up of low carbon energy and technology.
Overall more than 1,000 organizations have pledged support for the People’s Climate March, including the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Earth Day Network. Students from more than 300 colleges and universities are expected to attend the march. While the leaders of China and India recently said they wouldn’t be attending the U.N. Summit, President Obama is expected to be there. Even if certain world leaders don’t show up for political or logistical reasons, governments and stakeholders across the world will be watching for serious movement on what has become a slowed-down or even stalled path toward an effective global climate treaty. This mass convergence of interested parties could provide a crucial step in breaking the bottleneck.
This is the hope of Bill McKibben, climate author and environmentalist turned activist, and co-founder of 350.org, who says the march is “a invitation to anyone who’d like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced:”
The point is, sometimes you can grab the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and shake it a little. At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time … A loud movement — one that gives our “leaders” permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so — is the only hope of upending that prophecy.
The Climate March commences at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, 9/21, at Columbus Circle on the south end of Central Park. While flying into New York may be the only option for some, organizers are offering a number of low-carbon transportation alternatives. Center for Biological Diversity, one of the sponsors of the march, is putting together a People’s Climate Train from the San Francisco Bay Area. There are climate buses departing from around the country. A ride share forum has also been set up on the march’s website. A group of extreme climate marchers currently most of the way through their trek across the country will even be taking a few days off to join the two-mile march.
While the People’s Climate March, U.N. Climate Summit, and Climate Week are the most pronounced happenings with the biggest potential to make a lasting impression, a number of other worthwhile events are being organized to bring attention to less-discussed climate issues.
- The Converge for Climate Conference from Sept. 19–21 will focus on broadening the scope of climate action to include system-challenging solutions. “The root of the problem is an economic system that exploits people and the planet for profit,” state the organizers. “It is a system that requires constant growth, exploitation, warfare, racism, poverty and ever-increasing ecological devastation to function.”
- The opening plenary on Friday, 9/19, will include hip hop artist Immortal Technique, and on Saturday, 9/20, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, and The Shock Doctrine will speak.
- The People’s Climate Justice Summit on September 22 and 23 will convene community delegations to focus on the frontlines of climate change where the poor and vulnerable are often the hardest hit. The Summit delegates will convene at the U.N. Church Center, directly across the street from the U.N., and the proceedings will be live-streamed for public viewing at The New School.
- The organizers argue that the U.N. Climate Summit represents the next step in “corporate takeover of the UN climate negotiations.” They want to bring attention to the “indigenous peoples’ communities, communities of color and working-class white communities that are the first and most impacted by the storms, floods and droughts,” exacerbated by climate change.
- The Religions For The Earth Conference will bring together more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from across the world to gather at Union Theological Seminary from Sept. 19–21. On Sunday, after the climate march, a multi-faith service focused on climate change at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine will feature former Vice President Al Gore.
- The conference is part of the Climate Week events, a full list of which can be viewed at www.climateweeknyc.org/events/.
Where Else To Be
Trying to create an itinerary from this week of events can feel almost as overwhelming as trying to confront climate change itself. Aside from the Climate Week NYC calender, the People’s Climate March calender is a good way to keep track of everything that’s going on.
InsideClimate News also made a handy graphic pointing out the top places to be during Climate Week. Aside from the People’s Climate March, the U.N. Climate Summit, and the Religions For The Earth Conference, the list includes:
- The Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting
- The Carbon Tracker Initiative
- The inaugural Rising Seas Summit
- The Colloquium on Forests and Climate
- The IETA-ICAP High Level Carbon Pricing Dialogue
- Carbon Forum North America
- and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
Two climate-oriented documentaries will also be premiering during the week.
Disruption looks with a stoic eye at the increasingly sobering reality of climate change while also offering behind-the-scenes footage of efforts to galvanize action through activism. Climate Heroes: Stories of Change, produced as an initiative of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, connects nine stories about climate action around the world. Narrated by actor and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Ian Somerhalder, the film features positive developments, such as the deployment of clean energy technologies, on the path toward mitigating and adapting to climate change.
For those who can’t make it to the week-long undertaking, there are still a number of ways to stay involved. There will be coinciding marches in eight other cities worldwide, including London, Paris, Melbourne, Berlin, and New Delhi. To get more info on these and other events that don’t take place in the Big Apple, check out 350.org’s list. As of early September, there were 63 other coinciding events scheduled in North America, six in South America, 54 in Europe, 10 in South Asia, and 32 in Australia.
The Climate Reality Project will be holding its annual “24 Hours of Reality” event on September 16th and 17th to “share 24 reasons to be hopeful about our future, and encourage everyone around the world to commit to a day of climate action.” The Guardian has also set up a page as part of their GuardianWitness program where participants can post pictures and stories about their experiences at the Climate March and associated events.
Keep In Mind
The point of the People’s Climate March is not to impose demands — in fact there are no specific demands associated with the march — but to show how the climate movement has come into the mainstream. No longer just an environmental issue, the demonstration has drawn support from labor unions, faith groups, schools, businesses, international NGOs, social justice groups, public health entities, and more.
On top of breadth of interest it is also meant to display the urgency of the cause. Widely being compared to crucial moments along the march toward civil rights action and anti-war movements, the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to action read as if they could’ve been written by an orator for this month’s event:
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
The next official UNFCCC negotiating session will be at the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru in December. Leaders hope to set up a global agreement to be finalized a year later, at the 2015 session in Paris.