On Tuesday, November 18th, the United States Senate voted on the highly controversial Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) that would bring Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles through forest, desert, and sand hills from Alberta’s boreal forest to the Texas Gulf Coast. The vote was proposed by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), and it needed 60 votes in order to pass and permit construction of KXL. It failed by a close final count of 59-41. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last week (the Sioux tribe declared this an act of war against their nation).
President Obama has said that his position on KXL has not changed. In fact, it seems he may be even more against the pipeline. He has said he will not approve the pipeline if it is shown that it will contribute to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions (which it obviously does). Luckily, Obama will not see this bill on his desk, but there is still room for him to lead and reject Keystone for good. Regardless, the vote is a victory for environmental and climate activists who have worked hard for years to stop the construction of this destructive pipeline.
This issue is particularly close to my heart. In March 2014 I participated in XL Dissent, where more than 1,000 students marched from Georgetown University, where President Obama gave a speech on climate change in 2013, to the White House, where 398 people zip-tied themselves to the fence and got arrested. I was one of the 398, and I was arrested for my convictions and for my hope for the future. You can read more about my reasons for getting arrested here.
Less than two months after the historic People’s Climate March, when 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York City, world leaders listened to us and stepped up to the plate.
On the night of November 11th, 2014, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing, United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a a new U.S.-China climate deal. President Obama stated that by 2025, the United States will lower greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% compared to 2005 levels. President Xi stated that China will reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, and then decline. To reach that goal, 20% of China’s energy will have to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The agreement was crafted in secret over the last nine months. Officials hope that it will inspire action at the climate talks in Paris in 2015. Prior to this ground-breaking agreement, many believed there was not much hope for a firm commitment in Paris. This is because the United States and China are the two largest economies, as well as the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and without leadership from these two countries, other governments do not have as much incentive or obligation to cut greenhouse gases.
Although this agreement is an important step in the right direction, it has no enforcement mechanisms, and will not keep the world below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point beyond which catastrophic climate change is inevitable. Bill McKibben provides interesting thoughts about the significance of the climate deal: what it is, and what it isn’t. McKibben notes that this agreement is an important victory for the grassroots and that it indicates that the grassroots should continue to put pressure on the international community. The Council on Foreign Relations also weighs in.
Let us hope that this agreement will push the world, especially the biggest polluters, towards climate solutions and a binding treaty in Paris.
This video, called “Into the Streets,” provides a captivating summary of the People’s Climate March and Flood Wall Street in New York City. There are many other videos that capture the feeling of the weekend of September 21st, but this one does a particularly good job. It provides footage of the artwork that was created for the march, the march itself, and Flood Wall Street, which was a protest that occurred the day after the march, on September 22nd. During Flood Wall Street, 3,000 people descended into the financial capital of the world to show that Wall Street is funding the fossil fuel companies, and therefore is funding climate change. 100 people participated in a sit-in and got arrested, including someone in a polar bear suit. (Although some believe the polar bear has become an overused symbol of climate change, I think this particular use was quite clever.)
It was a powerful weekend, with more than 2,000 mobilizations across the world. This video provides a sense of the people who made this weekend possible, the people of the climate movement.
On September 21st, 2014, 400,000 people marched through the streets of New York City to demand that world leaders take action on climate change. It was an unbelievably inspiring and invigorating day. During the march, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be, fighting for change in a beautiful, collective way. I marched alongside 80 Mount Holyoke students and 50,000 students from 400 colleges and universities from across the country. The youth contingent covered 10 city blocks!
In terms of people power, the People’s Climate March was a huge success. Unlike many previous large climate and environmental actions, the story was picked up by much of the mainstream media, including the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, Slate, the New Yorker, and the Wall Street Journal. Many celebrities, politicians, and actors also attended the march, including Al Gore, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mark Ruffalo, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Bacon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Russell Brand, Edward Norton, Mary Robinson, and even the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. The march was generally larger than many organizers expected. When I was canvassing in New York City this summer, my script said that a quarter of a million people would march with us- and the final number was much larger!
Here are some photos from the march, specifically the youth contingent. Thanks to Kayla Smith for the amazing photography.
The People’s Climate March is a week from today, and it is shaping up to be, by far, the largest climate march in history. Having watched the organization of this march since April, I am proud of and inspired by the long months of passionate work by so many people. The fervor and energy that I have seen throughout the process make it clear just how imperative and desperate the work for strong international climate legislation has become after decades of inaction. It has been wonderful to see many groups and constituencies, such as labor, artists, anti-war, anti-corporate and environmental groups coming together under one banner: to fight for a livable future that includes safe, well-paying jobs, an economy that works for everyone, not just the oligarchs, and a livable climate.
Although hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets in seven days, not everyone believes that the People’s Climate March is the best tactic the climate movement could use to get the attention of world leaders and advocate for climate sanity.
Some people say that the People’s Climate March is pointless: that it will not lead to any serious commitment from world leaders on climate change. Some people say that it needs a more clear message, a demand for a specific commitment. They say that there’s nothing we can do at this point. Some say we should enjoy life because we’ve screwed up so badly that it doesn’t matter whether we try to make things better now. Many people look at me like I’m naive, or simply going through my ‘activist’ phase. I find that insulting.
I have no choice but to be hopeful. I have never lived on a planet unaffected by climate change. The realities of mass extinction, resource conflict, and the possibility of total ecological collapse are horrible things that all young people have had to come to grips with. How can you pass this earth on to me, in the state that it is in, and then say that I don’t have the right to have a dream, to fight for something that may be out of our reach? No matter what may actually come of the People’s Climate March, the UN Climate Summit, or COP 21, young people are working towards our future. It may be a future of climate chaos, but there’s no way we can survive without the love, care, thought, and critical thinking that has propelled our movement so far. Worst case scenario, those qualities will carry us through the next decades, and hopefully bring us to a heavily altered, yet somewhat livable world.
On September 21st, 2014, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in New York City to show that we are willing to put our bodies in the streets to fight for strong, immediate international climate legislation. This day of action is called the People’s Climate March, and there will be more than 1,500 sister marches in 130 different countries across the world, from Mumbai to Manila. All 50 states will be represented at the march in New York City, as well as 28 different religious faiths and denominations, 20 marching bands, thousands of students from more than 300 colleges and universities from across the United States, and more than 1,100 community, labor, environmental justice, faith, and progressive groups.
On September 23rd, two days after the People’s Climate March, world leaders will convene at the United Nations for an emergency Climate Summit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called world leaders to New York City in order to prepare for COP 21 in Paris in 2015. (In a future post I will explain more about COP 21 and the UNFCCC, but for now it is simply important to know that leading climate scientists have agreed that COP 21 will be our last opportunity, as a species, to create meaningful climate legislation that stands a chance of keeping us from condemning the planet to utter chaos.)
The People’s Climate March is going to be an historic event, hopefully on the scale of the March on Washington and the Nuclear Freeze March in New York City in 1982 that attracted more than 1 million people. We need to be historic. We need to be big. Climate change is bigger than anything humans have ever faced, and to deal with the coming challenges, we need everyone on board.
Will you join us?