The streets of Manhattan were shut down to traffic Sunday, and taken over by environmental activists from around the world. Young and old, from the Bronx to Alaska, they came with one message: we are prepared to fight for our collective future.
The message was aimed –in part- at the United Nations, which begins discussions this week on a new global carbon emissions treaty. But Sunday’s march was also a long-term call to action to every man, woman and child.
400,000+ Attend The March
Over 400,000 strong, this sea of people –with colorful signs, floats, chants and songs– moved down Central Park West and through midtown. The mood was both incredibly upbeat and “peaceful,” as one police officer said to me.
The demonstrators at the People’s Climate March are the human face of a profound crisis: the earth’s very ability to sustain human life is now in question. Many spoke to us about the deep urgency of the situation. Others pointed to the fact that solidarity climate actions took place in over 160 countries Sunday.
Children were quite visible at the march, holding signs and helping with floats. The presence of the very old and very young in the crowds was particularly moving.
What was also striking was how demonstrators linked local environmental issues to the global climate crisis.
Whether we were discussing the proliferation of natural gas pipelines across New Jersey, receding glaciers in Alaska, river ecosystems threatened by oil exploration in Northern Canada, or the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Long Island, the people we spoke with were very clear in their analysis: it’s time to end our use of fossil fuels now.
Perhaps the most interesting and captivating part of the march was that the participants came armed with solutions. Wherever we turned, there were posters and floats that explained how a clean energy economy can be put into existence immediately. Many said to us that the technology and know-how to end our use of fossil fuels is available now; what is missing is the political will.
Voices from the People’s Climate March
Throughout this week, we will be posting audio recordings of our interviews with march participants, from a 13-year old girl living in Massachusetts to the Green Party’s candidate for New York State Governor.
Every demonstrator has a unique story, but all saw themselves as part of a historic -and global- movement.
Rafael, a twenty-five year old from the Bronx, spoke to us about the fact that, “for far too long we’ve been ignoring this issue…maybe finally our generation will be the first generation…to see what we’re doing to this planet.”
“Politicians need to stop worrying about how they look in the media and start worrying about the actual real issues,” Rafael continued. “Change is coming…we’re all together…together we can make an impact.”
NYC’s Role In Fighting Climate Change
We also had the opportunity to speak with Nik Sekhran, Chief of Sustainable Development for the United Nations Development Program. Sekhran spoke about the role that New York City plays in finding a solution to climate change.
“The challenge that we’ve [the U.N.] got is to make sure that collective contribution [in terms of global emissions cuts] is sufficient to avoid calamitous climate change,” Sekhran said. “How do we get to the level of ambition that we need?”
“That’s why an event like this is so important here in New York City. There’s over a hundred thousand people here; this matters to people and ultimately for leaders to take note and to bring to the table good proposals and to make meaningful progress.”
“New York City residents tend to be very progressive,” Sekhran continued. “The City has made huge headway in terms of its waste management systems and its conservation programs…We need to show the world what New York is doing…[Climate change] it’s a very, real significant threat to New York, and because of that…New Yorkers can make a major difference. People hear what New Yorkers say.”
More Climate March Coverage
Want to see more of the March? Check out our big batch of photos from the day.
Photo credit: Heather Phelps-Lipton