NEW YORK, NEW YORK — “It’s going to be a good day,” said Van Jones, co-host of CNN’s Crossfire and former White House environmental adviser, in the moments leading up to the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday. His words and attitude echoed throughout the area at the front of the march, as celebrity activists like Mark Ruffalo and prominent community leaders like Mari Rose Taruc, a Filipina organizer from the Bay Area, prepared to lead nearly 30 blocks of jam-packed marchers through midtown Manhattan.
“As this march begins, I’m hearing so many solutions, I’m even getting hopeful,” Taruc told ThinkProgress. Taruc was one of seven people chosen to speak before the march, ranging from a retired Kentucky coal miner with black lung disease to a mother from the sea level rise-endangered Marshall Islands.
Speaking passionately about why they chose to march and how climate change was impacting them and their communities, they were just a few voices amongst thousands speaking out for climate action. An official count conducted at the march showed over 310,000 participants — more than triple pre-march estimates of 100,000. Around the world, hundreds of thousands more joined 2,646 events in 156 countries.
In an interview before the march, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, for which leaders will gather later this week to address climate change, said today is “all about showing that we must address climate change,” and Tuesday, at the U.N. Summit, is when the world will show that they will address the issue.
“The beautiful thing about the process right now is that it’s both bottom up and top down,” she said.
Between 9:30 a.m. and noon, before the march started moving, Central Park West filled to capacity with supporters of action on both ends. Signs waved, drums beat, and cheers erupted. There were stickers and t-shirts and pamphlets. On one side of the marchers tall buildings lined the street, on the other the open space of Central Park cast a long, green reflection.
Around 72nd Street, about midway up the queue, people spilled over into the park when space became limited. Participants in oil-soaked and green fairy costumes, waving wind turbine props and anti-fracking signage, had come from near and far to build momentum going into an important week of climate discussions. The event marked the beginning of the lead-up to the international climate summit in Paris at the end of 2015, where leaders hope to reach a new global agreement to mitigate greenhouse gases.
“My expectation is that we will set the scene for Paris next year,” George Ferguson, mayor of Bristol in the United Kingdom, told ThinkProgress. Ferguson came to the U.S. to attend the march and facilitate climate action at the local level. “If we can show a level of determination and unity at this time it will promise well for real movement next year.”
Ferguson said that mayors and city leaders are much closer to the solutions for climate change as well as the results of climate change. He said Bristol is a coastal city that has experienced heavy flooding recently “and that can only get more severe — but it’s nowhere near what we’ve seen on other continents.”
He said the major changes needed to fight climate change will come from “thousands of small changes, and that those changes will largely be in our cities. So it’s really important we have solidarity of mayors in cities across the world.”
“We’re here to think together, learn together, and steal ideas from each other,” Ferguson said.
Norway’s Environmental and Climate Minister, Tine Sundtoft, who was taking part in the march, told ThinkProgress that she was there to “be part of the global mobilization” and that she wants “people to tell leaders that now we have to take climate change seriously.”
Heikki Holmås, a Norwegian member of parliament who was accompanying Sundtoft, said the march represented two major things. First, a great achievement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for mobilizing such a massive event and second, a great moment for people all over the world. “This kind of mass demonstration shows that for those political leaders who want to step up, we are behind you,” he told ThinkProgress.
Ban took part in the march, as did former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Earlier this week DiCaprio was named by Ban as the U.N.’s Messenger of Peace and a “new voice for climate advocacy.”
Holmås said he’s been working on fighting climate change since 1990, even before the first UNFCCC summit in Rio de Janeiro. He said he sees this as a possible turning point.
“We all hoped Copenhagen in 2009 would be the game changer, but at that time the different parties weren’t able and willing to reach out hands to each other and realize how much needs to be done,” Holmås said. “What’s happened now, first and foremost, we have the political leadership saying this is actually important. In addition all businesses apart from the oil and coal industry understand that this is such a big risk to long-term earning that more and more companies want to be part of the solution, not the problem.”
While for some the march stood out as a momentum-building step in the long process of confronting climate change, to others it was just another day in a life spent focused on energy and environmental issues.
Scott Beibin, an artist, inventor, and booking agent based in Philadelphia, told ThinkProgress that while he attended the march to learn about solutions, he spends every day of his life working on these issues.
“This is just another thing for me,” he said. “I live my life by this. This is a fantastic meeting point. There are so many people here, doing amazing work and coming from different perspectives.”
Beibin said the key in the grassroots community is to create the circumstances that force a response from those in power. “No matter how many trendy environmental things are out there, the most important part is the actual real impact people are having in the world — the actual practical solutions,” he said.
Organizers increased the estimate to nearly 400,000 attendees at the New York City People’s Climate March at the end of the day Sunday.