On the streets of New York City, signs promoting the People’s Climate March seem to be everywhere. Organizers project that the march could be the largest climate change mass-action ever. Over 100,000 are expected on the streets of New York.
Fourteen hundred -and counting- organizations have signed on, representing environmental causes and communities across the country and the globe. What is the fundamental objective that links all these groups and people together? What is the march supposed to accomplish?
The key focus, said Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director for 350.org, is to show mass public support for keeping eighty-percent of existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and moving aggressively toward an economy based on “clean energy.”
350.org is the lead organizer of Sunday’s march. Their name refers to the often-cited statistic that maintaining a livable climate requires a reduction in “the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.”
“There’s never been a march like this- on this scale,” Henn told NYER. The march “is a big tent moment,” he said, “to demonstrate a huge constituency” for addressing climate change. “What we’ve been lacking is political pressure…we need our political leaders to start responding to people, not polluters.”
Henn agreed that the movement was diverse, composed of hundreds of organizations who “also have very singular fights,” from stopping fracking to combatting pollution sources in individual towns and neighborhoods.
The focus on re-organizing our economy around clean energy, “makes it possible for lots of people from different walks of life to come together,” Henn stated.
New Global Emissions Targets Should Impact Energy Policy
The People’s Climate March happens two days before an “emergency” United Nation’s summit on climate change, which is intended to build political momentum for the negotiation of a new climate treaty in Paris next year.
Henn said that environmental groups across the globe will be watching the treaty negotiation process with one over-arching question: do new emissions targets “move us toward 100% clean energy? Does this mean that no more coal fired power plants will be built?”
What Would A Clean Energy Economy Look Like?
A Clean Energy Economy would be centered around renewable sources of energy, like the sun, wind and water. A focus on renewable energy would heavily impact capital investment and workforce development decisions, for example.
Both the City and the State of New York are investing in clean energy generation.
The City announced this week that it is constructing a hydroelectric facility to “capture the natural force of the billions of gallons of water” released from its upstate Cannonsville drinking water reservoir every year.
The plant, says the City, will generate enough electricity to power roughly 6,000 homes and it will avoid the emission of 25,620 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually—the equivalent of removing 5,400 cars from the road.
The facility is also expected to generate approximately $2 million in revenue each year, “depending on demand and the market price of electricity.”
Betting on Renewable (and cheaper) Energy
Making renewable energy sources cost-competitive with fossil fuels is key to their wide-scale adaptation. By the end of the decade, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council, “solar energy could become cheaper than conventional electricity in many parts of the country.”
New York State is investing heavily in solar. The Cuomo administration has committed a billion dollars to solar expansion over the next decade. The goal is to build 3,000 megawatts of solar power, enough “reliable clean electricity to power nearly half a million New York homes.”
New York is currently home to the largest solar farm on the East Coast, the 32-megawatt Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Long Island facility produces enough electricity annually to power nearly 4,500 homes.
There are almost 140,000 American workers employed in the solar industry today, says the NRDC, and that number is expected to grow. New York could eventually be home to ten-thousand solar jobs based on the Governor’s investment.
And the NRDC has found that wind energy now costs about the same as electricity from new coal- and gas-fired power plants. American wind generates enough electricity to power more than 11 million homes, and provides manufacturing, construction and operation jobs for at least 75,000 Americans, the group adds.
In some months, says the NRDC, “wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nation’s electricity, and experts estimate that in the future, wind energy could realistically supply five times that amount — 30 percent or more of our electricity needs.”
The State, and other partners, have been attempting to move ahead on a proposed wind farm off the Rockaway Coast. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project has the potential to be the largest off-shore wind facility in the U.S.
If built, the Farm could help the State meet its objective that New York obtain 45 percent of its electricity through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources. The State had originally proposed meeting this target by 2015, which now seems unlikely. Advocates are pushing the Cuomo administration to renew and stick with aggressive renewable energy targets.
Affecting Every Level of Society
Beyond power generation, however, a Clean Energy Focus will affect every level of society, especially our economy. The need for energy conservation means that our homes, workplaces and public buildings will have to be retrofitted, creating scores of jobs and other economic impacts.
Our methods of transportation will continue to shift toward electric vehicles, mass transit and bikes. Major investments will be required to expand mass transit, and rail-based cargo shipment.
Our waste stream will change as we send less of our trash to landfills, and more to recycling plants and facilities that can turn waste safely into energy. Transforming how we deal with trash will move jobs away from trucking and dumping it, and more toward re-using it.
The end result of moving away from fossil fuels? Enhanced air and water quality, thousands of new jobs dedicated to rebuilding our country, and a fighting chance at protecting our climate for future generations.
See you on Sunday.
Photo credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority via Creative Commons