On September 21, over 400,000 people marched through Manhattan demanding global action against climate change. The People’s Climate March was planned as a response to the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit on September 23 and became the largest climate march to date. Thousands of other activists around the world also took actions in solidarity with marchers in New York while world leaders gathered to speak about climate change and work on specific global policy changes to reduce the output of greenhouse gases.
Activists protested environmental causes of climate change as broad-ranging as food sovereignty, land grabs, poverty, tracking, police violence, and human rights violations. Members of varying communities attested to how they are impacted by the effects of climate change, including storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. Many activists were concerned about the ability of members of the UN and global business leaders to derive any sort of real action from the Summit.
One such activist was Marifel Macalanda, a Filipina woman who flew 16 hours to take part in the march.
“We are here today with the indigenous peoples contingent from all over the world. We are here to elevate the voices of the indigenous people for the protection of their remaining natural resources,” Macalanda said. “Some of my colleagues are there right now pushing for recommendations. We are really disappointed because no positive change will come from discussions. We’ve already seen the document, and it’s not what the people want, especially the indigenous people. There’s already a document, and the signing is tomorrow (Monday)! We’re thinking, ‘How are they going to already sign the document [on Monday] if there’s still a discussion [planned on Tuesday]?’”
Ambiguous promises to change the causes of climate change are not new. Another United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled in Paris in 2015, and a first draft of a climate agreement will be presented at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 20) in Lima in December 2014. At the Summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. However, many organizations, including Communities United for a Just Transition, thought this declaration was only a market-based solution that would “further exploit human and natural resources to expand profits,” according to the UN Summit Response Press Release.
Marchers at the front of the miles-long protest held sunflowers to symbolize community-led solutions: sunflowers remove harmful toxins from the soil while providing nutrients and shelter for animal life. From large birds to a massive asthma inhaler and a giant life raft held by a South Bronx watershed community group, visuals were abundant along the march route. Over 1570 labor, environmental, community, religious, and activist groups sponsored the march.
Pelenise Alofa, President of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, joined a delegation of six i-Kiribati from the Pacific Island nation in New York. Their trip was preceded by an expedition to the Arctic Circle, where Kiribati President Anote Tong and his delegation were able to see firsthand the glacier melts that are threatening their islands thousands of miles away. The islands of Kiribati are 310 square miles of land, most of which are merely a few feet above sea level.
“We know there is a direct impact of what is happening in the Arctic to our country in Kiribati,” Alofa said. “Our president is speaking at the United Nations. We have seen the effects of coastal erosion. We’re losing our land, and our land is very important to us. We’ve seen so many differences in weather patterns. It’s raining at the wrong time, and floods, and heat at the wrong time, more intensive at this time.”
When asked in an interview with SPARE CHANGE NEWS about how the United Nations and Security Counsel can help, Alofa exclaimed, “The UN should stop negotiating and start taking action. We’ve been waiting too long – 20 years!” She explained that small-scale adaptation projects have been implemented by non-profits, but there has been no proper “immediate action” taken to save Kiribati.
Other climate marchers, like Nurya Chana of the Buddhist Monk Order, were optimistic. “I definitely hope the amount of people today will drive something home to them at the UN,” Chana said. “We’re not being represented at all. It’s about time that we act. Not only do we need to stop what is happening, but we also need to fix and heal.”
Demands from the marchers encompassed a theme of community-led priorities, including zero waste, food justice, long-term green jobs, carbon taxes, and energy democracy in the face of widespread capitalism.
Roberto Nutlouis, a member of the Navajo Nation, travelled to New York with a delegation of 11. He was adamant that world leaders cannot find solutions to climate change in the current market-driven economy. “We want the UN to really commit to something binding that will really reduce our carbon footprint as humanity,” Nutlouis said. “That responsibility greatly lies with the industrialized nations. The current mechanism that they’re proposing within their capitalistic system will not work, and we’re here to say that we need something to change. Something different than capitalism.”
Nutlouis went on to emphasize that current approaches would not benefit the Navajo Nation. “Right now most of the discussions are market-based approaches. As indigenous people, we know that means of colonization,” he said. “They’re going to further colonize our land, our resources, and privatize, and all under the guise of reducing greenhouse gasses. We are totally against that.”
As farmers and ranchers, Nutlouis and other members of the Navajo Nation have seen shifts in migration and ecology due to climate change. “In the Southwest, we are predicted to permanently enter into a mega-drought within the next ten years,” he said. “A lot of our ceremonies that we do rely on the lands. We are beginning to see the migrations of plants and animals from places we would normally go to harvest.”
The march garnered international attention, including a brief mention by President Barack Obama in his UN Climate Summit address. The Obama administration implemented an executive order requiring federal agencies to factor in environmental sustainability when designing new development programs. The President also touted the EPA’s recent implementation of regulations on existing coal-fired power plants. But some activist leaders did not think this was enough.
Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org — a network dedicated to building a global climate movement through online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions — issued the following reaction to President Obama’s speech at the Climate Summit.
“Today’s boasts about his climate efforts ring hollow in the face of America passing Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’ s largest oil and gas producer,” McKibben said. “We hope that when ‘next year’ comes and he proposes actual targets, they’ll start to reverse the trend. But hope is not all we’ll do — the movement to weaken the fossil fuel industry continues apace.”