The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


2 Comments

The IPCC, Again

On Sunday (November 2nd), the IPCC released the final installment of its Assessment Report 5 (AR5), the Synthesis Report. I’ve written about the IPCC and its publications before, but this seems a good time to offer a recap before addressing the new report itself.

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body that exists to brief the UN (and everybody else) on climate change. It conducts no new research and does not advocate specific policies. Instead, it compiles existing research into various types of reports so that the people responsible for drafting policy can get thorough, accurate information without having to read thousands of scientific papers themselves. The most extensive of the IPCC’s reports. and the real heart of its labor, are the Assessment Reports, which summarize the entire body of scientific knowledge on the subject–what we’re dealing with now and what we can expect for the future under various scenarios.

The IPCC is subdivided into three main Working Groups, each of which focuses on a particular aspect of climate change. The Assessment Report as a whole consists of each Working Group’s report, plus a final Synthesis Report at the end. Over the past year and a half, the IPCC has released one of these reports every few months. Each of these installments also has an associated Summary for Policymakers, and each has gone through several drafts, some of which were leaked to the press. Over the past two years or so, all of the many news stories we’ve heard on recently released IPCC reports have been installments, summaries, or leaked drafts of this one report–the AR5.

Each of these installments has attracted controversy, including accusations from both climate deniers and advocates that the IPCC must somehow be on the take, or at least bowing to political pressure to present a less accurate, more convenient result. There are three good reasons to believe that these accusations are baseless:

  • If the IPCC were lying for money or politics, wouldn’t it have done a better job of pleasing its patron? In point of fact, it has received criticism from both sides, suggesting that it is beholden to neither
  • If someone in the IPCC wanted to lie for money, he or she would not have joined the IPCC in order to do it; members serve without pay. There are much more lucrative options out there
  • There are simpler explanations for the concerns of both sides:
    • Climate advocates have complained that the AR5 presents a misleadingly rosy view, leaving out a lot of the more dire possibilities we face. The explanations involve the rules of the IPCC, especially the fact that only papers published before a certain cut-off date could be considered for the report. Between how long it takes for research to find its way into publication and the IPCC’s own lead-time, the AR5 comes off the presses almost five years out of date. Given that what we know about global warming keeps getting worse, old news is always comparatively bright.
    • Climate deniers have complained that AR5 is extreme or alarmist–in that they are right, inasmuch as the truth is extremely alarming.

The entire AR5 is or will soon be publicly available. For those who do not wish to read hundreds of pages of very dense and technical text, there are also the Summaries for Policymakers. The Summary for the recently released Synthesis Report is available here. It, too, is dry as toast, but it’s fairly accessible and only 40 pages long.

I’m not going to summaries the Synthesis Report in detail, since it is largely a summary of the three earlier reports, which I’ve already summarized. The main points are that climate change is real, mostly being caused by human activity, and very, very dangerous. If we do not drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and cut them to zero by the end of the century, cataclysm will be unavoidable.

But the report is a wealth of information for those with an interest in the subject–almost all of the figures and ideas we’ve been seeing in climate-related internet memes, in one place, from a reliable source. It is worth reading. There are some places that might be unintentionally misleading for the general reader, though. For example:

The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (medium confidence). [Emphasis original]
To the non-scientific eye–that is,to most of us–all those likelys and mediums look like fudge-factors along the lines of kinda and sorta. People who use words like that often probably don’t know what they’re talking about. But scientists use these words differently, at least in a research context. The authors aren’t saying they’re not sure of their results, they’re saying that their results come in clearly defined ranges and they use these words as a kind of short-hand to say exactly what those ranges are.
In other words, they know exactly what they’re talking about.
The IPCC has now officially said that we as a species must get off fossil fuel, and soon, or face dire consequences. Or, more precisely, we–our current generations–must divest ourselves of fossil fuel or future generations will face dire consequences. A certain heroism and courage is called for here, a willingness to do something difficult for the benefit of someone else. It’s the sort of thing most of us want to believe we would do.
But none of this is new. The Synthesis Report only pulls together ideas and information already published in earlier installments. AR5 as a whole only gathers and reports on existing research. On the basis of that existing research some of us (including me) have been calling for an end of fossil fuel for years. Most recently, the call was articulated by CAN (Climate Action Network).
The big question is not what we should do but how to do it–the primary challenge is not scientific anymore but political and cultural. Today, Election Day, could determine whether we get to keep the momentum we earned with the People’s Climate March, back in September, when it seemed for a while that the media and our political leaders were starting to take climate issues seriously.
Regardless of the election results, we have to hold our leaders to task on this.


1 Comment

In the News….

There is a Facebook meme going around now to the effect that the news media collectively ignored the People’s Climate March. Of course, this refers to the traditional media, newspapers, television, and radio, not websites–online media often do cover environmental protests that their traditional counterparts ignore, but many appeal to niche markets of readers and therefore cannot be considered mainstream news.

In any case, I had been afraid the media might ignore the march, so I’ve spent the morning trying to find out who covered the event and who did not. I am pleased to report than many major news outlets did cover the march.

It is possible that at least some people thought newspapers did not cover the event because the September 21st issue contained no news of the march. Of course, unless a newspaper has an evening edition–and I’m not aware of any that do, anymore–newspaper coverage is always a day behind. The march on the 21st was covered in the newspaper issues of the 22nd.

The New York Times had several excellent articles, covering not just the march itself, but also recent climate-related bad news and the UN Climate Summit and its connection to the People’s Climate March. Of course, a New York-based newspaper could hardly ignore the march, given that its local readers would know something snarled up traffic all day, but the New York Times is not simply a local paper. Arguably, the paper newsworthiness for the nation, and the Times defined the People’s Climate March as front page news.

The Boston Globe also covered the march well, with multiple articles, although the writer gave a rather deflated figure for the number of attendees (“more than 100,000,” which is accurate in as much as 311,000 is more than 100,000). The Globe did not put the march on the front page, except for a brief reference in a sidebar.

I also looked up several other local and regional newspapers, but they do not post the contents of previous print issues online. That their websites do cover the climate march does not mean much, since websites sometimes cover topics that associated traditional media do not.

On television, the PBS Newshour covered the march the day it happened, which is especially striking given that the Newshour has not covered previous climate marches and that their Sunday program is just a half an hour long. PBS’s radio relative, NPR News, covered the march, but their website layout makes it hard to tell which specific shows were involved. Monday morning I noticed that a brief mention of the march had made NPR’s headline updates, a good sign.

ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Fox News, and CNN all covered the march on their websites, and some did so very well, but I could not find archives of broadcasts for any of them. They either do not post broadcasts at all or they bury such posts three layers deep on the site where I couldn’t find them.

Almost more important than which news organizations covered the march was the tone of the coverage overall; every article or transcript I read contained the implicit assumption that climate change is real, human-caused, and important. The slippery insistence on treating climate change as a matter of opinion seems to be over. This is huge.

In other news, after the massive–and international–People’s Climate March on Sunday, there was a civil disobedience demonstration on Monday called Flood Wall Street in which participants dressed in blue to represent the sea and planned to rise up the steps of the Stock Exchange. The idea was to protest capitalism and its role in warping the climate. Although some protestors were arrested after trying to push through barricades, police allowed the protest–which I’m guessing did not have a permit–to continue. Mayor DeBlasio (who marched on Sunday) has since defended that decision on the grounds that people have a right to protest and that New York City has a responsibility to role-model government support of free speech. CBS’s website quotes him as saying–and I love this–“I think the First Amendment is a little more important than traffic.”

Flood Wall Street was also well-covered in the news.

Also, on Sunday, the Rockefeller family announced that their charitable organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, will divest itself totally from fossil fuels. The process has already begun–they have dropped both tar sands and coal–but will take some time to complete. It isn’t clear from what I’ve read whether they intended the announcement to have anything to do with the march, but they did time it to coincide with the UN Climate Summit and they are doing it for environmental reasons. That their money originally came from fossil fuel (first kerosene for lamp oil, then gasoline) lends a wonderful irony to the Rockefellers’ decision. They join a growing number of other investors, from colleges to tech companies, pulling their money out of fossil fuel.

Overall, there seems to be a kind of momentum, now. Personally, I’m starting to feel optimistic for the first time in a long time.

But if we’re going to keep the momentum growing, if this is not to be a flash in the pan, we’re going to have to keep pushing at it–going to rallies, speaking up, signing petitions, and, above all, VOTING.

And if your local paper or local news program really didn’t cover the march, write in and complain. Do it today.

 

 


9 Comments

The People’s Climate March

The logistics were terrible, I could not find my water bottle, and I was nursing a painfully injured foot–but I was bound and determined to attend the People’s Climate March. And I did it. So did my Mom. And so did over three hundred thousand other people.

Getting There

We got a late start organizing my trip to New York–various other aspects of my life got complicated this month–and by the time we looked for a ride, all the seats on the charter buses for marchers were sold out. A good sign, obviously, but how were we to get there? We don’t drive that far just for day trips, it uses too much gas. Finally, we got seats on a Greyhound, just before that bus sold out, too. On the road, two or three charter buses passed us.Everyone, apparently, was heading to New York.

New York is always a popular place, of course, so all those buses didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the march. The women sitting right behind us turned out to be fellow marchers, but our first unambiguous sign that we were involved in something big was in the subway. There, crowds gathered, waiting to get on trains headed towards the staging area, but nobody could get on because the trains were already completely full. We spotted signs, political t-shirts, and children dressed as animals in the crowd. Volunteers walked the platforms shouting directions to marchers from out of town. It is an awesome thing to realize one is part of an event, a human tide, a giant and momentous we.

Getting Started

Both times I marched for the climate in DC, the event began with a rally. We gathered together before the stage in a large, amoeba-shaped crowd. Then, as a few people at a time stepped out and began marching, we stretched out into a parade the way a weaver draws a thread from a cloud of wool. But this march in New York was way too big for us to form an initial amoeba, so the organizers had us all assemble on the route itself, with one length of street designated for people being affected by climate change already, another for scientists, another for religious people, and so on. So far so good. But despite all this planning, we soon found ourselves almost literally crushed in an ever-tightening crowd. Rumors passed in from the margins held that not the side streets feeding in to the march were also full of people. It was obvious a lot more people had shown up than even the organizers expected.

The designated started time–11:30–came and went with no sign of movement at all. We chatted with each other, squeezed together to let medics or the occasional ambulance pass (the ambulance was not for any of us, we were just in its way) and let volunteers lead us in chants to keep our spirits up. Still no movement.

If you’ve ever seen a freight train start, you’ll know why we weren’t moving; the engine goes forward, then, a few seconds later, the car behind it moves, then the car behind that…each car must wait until the one ahead of it has moved to be able to move in turn. The cars at the back might get going a full five or ten seconds after the engine starts. Our march was the same, since none of us could walk until those ahead of us gave us room. How long does it take for one person to step forward, out of the way of another? Seconds at most. And yet we stood there, waiting, for forty minutes before the movement of the crowd worked its way back to us. And we were in the first quarter of the parade. I hate to think of how long the people in the back must have stood waiting.

Moving with the Movement

It’s a curious thing about being in the middle of a protest march–there’s no way to really tell what’s going on. Everyone around starts cheering and you don’t know why because you can’t see anything, so you just go with it and start cheering, too. This happened several times before we even got going. The women next to us called it “spontaneous joy.” Chants propagate up and down the line and die away. The crowd stops and starts and stops again for reasons that could be hundreds or thousands of feet away. There is no telling. The march becomes a giant organism, a curiously gentle mob, and individual marchers can only look at each other, shrug, and laugh, and join in. The reason for the march itself is not silly, but cut adrift as they are by the sheer press of people, the marchers sometimes are.

One of the reasons to attend a political demonstration is precisely to become part of this enthusiastic super-organism. A man walking next to me reveled in the camaraderie. He told me he was from a part of New Jersey where people look at him funny if he even brings climate change up. It makes him feel lonely. Still, he stays involved. He supports–largely through money–both the Pachamama Alliance and The Hunger Project. His name is Marcus Bass and he wanted me to write about those organizations, not him. And I will, in a subsequent article.

Most of the signs and chants–in the parts of the march I saw, at least–were curiously generic. I heard and joined in chants like “The people/united/will never be defeated!” and “Tell me what democracy looks like/this is what democracy looks like!” and “Hey, Obama/we don’t want no climate drama!” and a few others I remember from protests past, but none specifically addressed the issue of the moment; showing political support for climate action ahead of the UN Climate Summit the next day. Few of the signs mentioned the UN. Most displayed fairly generic pro-environmental, anti-climate change messages: “Cook organic, not the Planet;” “Climate deniers have no morals;” “Can you swim?”

This apparent lack of focus may be a side effect of the “everyone in!” organizational approach of The People’s Climate March, or perhaps it is only that international policy and the procedures of the UN are hard to draw on posters and don’t rhyme with anything.

Or maybe it is just that everybody knew that what would speak to the political leaders was our sheer number; no one is going to brief President Obama on the wording of our signs. Our signs and chants were not for him but for each other. In coming together, we gave each other an opportunity to talk to like-minded people, to network, to suggest, even to criticize–there was a sizable contingent of vegetarians actively trying to get other marchers to give up meat for the climate (not a bad idea, actually; the carbon footprint of meat is huge). A march is also a chance for marchers to find and call attention to the connections among their different concerns–I fell to talking with a woman who has just started a company that will help people with asthma anticipate attacks based on air quality and weather. She says asthma rates are on the rise and is the single biggest health problem among children. And while no one knows for sure what the connection is, asthma attacks and poor air quality are strongly correlated. AND, poor air quality and climate change have the same cause in pollution. That’s why she came out to march. Her startup is called Wellwatch7 and her first name is Sworna–we traded email addresses but not last names.

This march was also an opportunity for people to dress up. I saw a few polar bears and so forth at the other marches, but nothing like what I saw here. There were dancing fairies in green sparkles, a woman all in blue robes and blue paint and trailing a twelve-foot train of trash and blue fabric (she must have been the polluted ocean), various animal masks, and an inexplicably tall bicycle. A man in a narwhal mask (his sign said “save the unicorns.” Narwhals are arctic creatures) and a man in a unicorn mask (“Unicorns are a myth but climate change isn’t”) met, apparently by chance, and took a picture together.

Some people appeared marched dressed, not in playful costumes, but in the uniforms of unusual lives. When my foot started hurting too badly, we stopped to sit for a while and ended up back in the section for religious groups. Most of these people looked ordinary and some might well have been strays such as me and my Mom. A few carried signs reading “Jew” or “Methodist” or “Baptist.” Perhaps their coreligionists clustered around those signs like knights rallying to battlefield standards. But there were also large, conspicuous groups marching together behind banners that took multiple people to carry. We saw two different groups of robed Buddhist monks (one wearing black, the other saffron) ringing bells as they walked, several dozen variously attired pagans beating drums and burning sage, and a large wooden ark carrying five or six Christian preachers in variously colored vestments and one man in ordinary clothes who carried his own sign “Atheist on the Ark!” Towards the end of the march I fell into step behind a tall, slim man in black robes. He looked like he could be a pagan priest but turned out to be a Franciscan brother. We discussed St. Francis for a few minutes, whom he cited as the patron saint of ecology.

With all this, the most striking thing about the march was its size–the weight of moving humanity and the length of the route. My mother, who is from New York, declared that the pavement in The City is harder than pavement anywhere else. Her feet hurt, too, and with my injury I was limping noticeably. It made the march seem much longer. There was no rally or even clear destination at the end of the march. Instead, the route simply began dividing and dividing again, like a river delta, and the march dissipated. Dehydrated and in pain, I felt dazed. My heart wasn’t in the demonstration anymore, but it didn’t matter how I felt; I’d been counted.

What It Means

The People’s Climate March succeeded in being the largest climate march to date. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people gathered that day in New York to send a message to our nation’s leaders. Among the marchers were such notables as Ban Ki Moon, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Al Gore. And in other countries almost as many again joined coordinated marches for the same reason on the same day.

Did it matter? Predictably, the media coverage has been minimal. I’m gathering information on that and plan to organize “comment bombs” for media outlets that didn’t cover the demonstration at all. But climate change as a subject is all over the news now, not as a controversial topic that “some” environmentalists care about, but as a real thing worth talking about for its own sake. Today I walked into the farmer’s market and was greeted by a volunteer gathering signatures for a climate-related petition. President Obama spoke boldly on the subject yesterday and seems entirely serious about it.

So, yes. We might have changed the world.

 


3 Comments

The President’s Plan, Part 3

President Obama has already used his executive power to tackle climate change domestically, although his plan will not be fully implemented until next year and it is far from certain it won’t be reversed by his successor. He is now trying a similar approach abroad.

Why the Creative Procedure?

The US Congress refuses to deal with climate change. Domestic bills for dealing with global warming have been dead on arrival in one or both chamber of Congress for years. Since the Constitution stipulates that treaties must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate, climate-responsible treaties are in even worse shape. Even when the Senate is controlled by Democrats, generally the more climate-responsible party, there are always enough naysayers to block a deal. Not only is there significant resistance climate responsibility itself, but there is a big chunk of the United States that is highly suspicious of the United Nations (UN). UN treaties, about the climate or otherwise, have an uphill battle through the US Senate, even if the treaty in question is based on an existing US law.

So, Mr. Obama is now trying to get things done without the help of Congress. He is, of course, taking a lot of political heat for doing so. Detractors argue that the President should not use executive authority to do things that Congress does not want done, that in side-stepping the Legislative Branch he is approaching the role of dictator or king. Supporters argue that the collective will of Congress seems to be that Mr. Obama not be President, something a majority of the American electorate disagreed with. They say that the President owes it to the people who elected him to do his job however he can.

This blog should not take sides except as relates to climate change. With that perspective in mind, therefore, I have called for support for Mr. Obama’s efforts, and will do so again. It is worth noting that his use of executive power is not unprecedented, or even particularly extreme relative to his predecessors.

It is also worth pointing out that this won’t be the first international agreement the US has brokered outside of the treaty ratification process. Many of the country’s trade agreements, including those related to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are not technically treaties and therefore were never ratified by the US Senate. Instead, Congress gave the President permission to negotiate and agreed to expedite approval of the resulting agreement through Congress, like an ordinary bill. Mr. Obama is not using this process for climate negotiations, but the point is that the US government has been quite comfortable developing new diplomatic procedure.

Arguably, the President’s plan is less of a departure from the treaty procedure than NAFTA, since he is not creating a new class of legally binding international agreement. Instead, he is using a mixture of existing treaties and new, non-binding agreements to create a plan he hopes will be “politically binding.”

What Is the President’s Plan?

The plan is to update an existing treaty from 1992 with non-legally binding international agreements. The result would combine an obligation for countries to make their own domestic emissions-reductions plans with voluntary reduction goals and voluntary pledges for rich countries to send money to poor countries to help them cope with the effects of climate change. Signatory countries would also be legally obligated to report their progress at regular international meetings—so any countries that do not meet their “voluntary” goals will take a political hit on the international stage.

The plan is set to be finalized and enacted at a conference in Paris next year, but the meeting in New York this month will serve as groundwork for the agreement.

So, What Are the Objections?

As noted, the Republicans in Congress do not like this plan. Their reasons largely boil down to an objection to any climate agreement at all. Meanwhile, there are international objections to the effect that the agreement doesn’t go far enough.

The issue is many of the countries most likely to suffer from global warming—low-lying coastal nations and those in Africa—are also among those with the fewest economic resources and the least responsibility for creating the problem. They are unlikely to commit to anything unless the United States commits as well. They need international help to deal with extreme weather, sea level rise, and famine, and they do not want to bear the costs of reducing emissions if the countries that caused the problem in the first place don’t.

Where Does that Leave Us?

This hybrid, semi-voluntary agreement may be the best the US can do at the moment, and it is clear that if the US does not come on board, little to no international movement is possible. The United States, China, and India are the lynchpins of the whole process. It is easy to say the plan isn’t enough; we need an international treaty obligating the whole world to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions immediately, to phase out fossil fuels entirely by 2050. Or else. But that might not be an option.

It’s a bad idea to let “great” be the enemy of “good” when “great” isn’t available.

The problem is that certain people don’t want to reduce fossil fuel use at all. If we refuse to take small steps because they are too small, those people win.

Once again, the meeting in New York City this month, and the associated demonstrations, offer a wonderful opportunity to show political support for the best chance we have at meaningful progress on climate.


5 Comments

Can-Do

The Climate Action Network (CAN) has issued a position paper calling for immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a complete end to fossil fuel use—to be replaced by “sustainable energy available to all” –by 2050.

CAN points out that only by STOPPING fossil fuel use entirely do we have a realistic chance of keeping the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees—that’s the limit beyond which catastrophic effects, including runaway feedback loops, become ever more likely. The 2050 transition is possible with current technology and “politically feasible if we so choose.” Can refers to the recent UN report on climate change as further proof of the seriousness of our situation and points out that the existing energy infrastructure is inefficient and expensive, anyway. Switching over could bring a lot of benefits in addition to averting the end of the world.

In all of this, CAN is correct. Plans to merely reduce fossil fuel use will not be enough because burning these fuels, by definition, involves adding greenhouse gasses to atmospheric circulation and that means further warming.

Basically, if you have a bucket that is almost full of water and you do not want it to spill over, you have to stop adding water to the bucket. Adding water slowly is not going to prevent it from spilling.

Of course, any reduction is good—it buys us time and exercises political muscle in the right direction. We should not waste energy by protesting half measures, rather, we should thank the people who take those partial steps and keep fighting for more.

But CAN’s phrase, “politically feasible if we choose” is the rub. The reality is that we don’t need another report, another plan, another timetable. CAN is only saying what has been more or less clear for thirty years, now. Had the world taken definitive, assertive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions then, instead of allowing emissions to increase dramatically, we could have gradually shifted over to an all-renewable energy infrastructure and the transition could have been nearly complete by now. Greenhouse gas emissions would certainly be a lot lower and we would not now be hearing about exploding permafrost in Siberia. Think of all the oil spills, coal ash spills, coal mine disasters and air quality alerts we might have been spared as well.

That ship of possibility sailed without us, not because world leaders didn’t have a plan or a timetable and not because they lacked a specific level of warming to avoid or a specific carbon budget to follow but because, frankly, the fossil fuel industry is politically powerful and doesn’t want to lose its business. Meaningful climate negotiations have so far failed because the governments of certain countries—notably the United States—made sure they would fail. Individuals, such as Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now President Obama, have worked very hard to provide meaningful government leadership, but have consistently been blocked by Congress and undone by their successors. The reality is that public figures fear they will not be re-elected if they support action on greenhouse gases, and they may be right. Other industrialized countries are, to varying degrees, in the same situation.

CAN is right to advance their uncompromising outline for action, but there is no reason to believe a goal alone will change anything. The political climate must change first.

Climates don’t change unless something changes them. We don’t need to fight atmospheric climate change; we need to stop changing the atmosphere. We do need to fight to change the political climate, and the upcoming march in New York is a great way to do that. We need legally binding greenhouse emissions reductions, with real consequences for violators, both at home and abroad, in every industrialized country on Earth. And we need to show our elected officials that if they do this for us we will reward them at the polls. If they don’t, we won’t.

Even in the United States, where a large percentage of the population does not believe global warming is real, enough people do that if all of us voted for public officials who were serious about climate change (including at the local level)–and refused to vote for those who were not—it would be very hard for anyone to get elected without us.

We can do this.


6 Comments

Marching Orders

A (hopefully) huge climate march is coming up this September 21st in New York City. Being there could make a difference.

The People’s Climate March, as it is being billed, is not the product of a single organization’s efforts. Instead, it is a cooperative effort of many groups–eight hundred and fifty of them, at last count. The organizers are still soliciting more partners, so if you have a group of your own, sign on and see how you can help.

The reason it is in Manhattan, rather than Washington DC, is that the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki Moon, has called for a special international conference on climate change in New York for that week. Unlike most meetings of the UN, this one does not involve UN delegates but rather heads of state.

The march is not to be a protest but rather a show of support; world leaders (especially those of the United States, who are both democratically elected and vulnerable to lobbying by the fossil fuel industries) need to be able to see that the people will support efforts to do something about climate change. They need to know there is political will backing them up. Only then can they act.

The organizers are helping to coordinate both transportation and housing. You can go to their website for more information or to sign up for email updates. An interesting possibility involves The Great March for Climate Action, a separate event that began in March and will continue until the beginning of November–a march that literally crosses the country. They will take a break from their own route to join the march in New York, traveling in a group from Indiana and then returning. If you want to join the Great March for a while, you can therefore get to NYC by hitching a ride with them. Conversely,if you go to NYC for The People’s March, you can go Indiana with the Great March and join their trek for a while.

Obviously, you would need to speak to event organizers about this.

Besides the NYC march itself, there will be other, related events in the days before and the days after the 21st of September. If you cannot get to the United States, there will be other coordinated events in other countries–their website has information on that, too. So far, there do not appear to be coordinated events in other parts of the US, but you could probably organize one yourself. If getting to New York is difficult for you, do an internet search for “people’s march for climate [your state]” and see if any local organizations are chartering buses in your area.

If you cannot get to New York, call the White House AND your Congresspeople on that day. If it’s busy (and hopefully it will be) call back.

This is about sending a signal. I have friends who poo-poo marches and other public demonstrations as ineffective, and it is true that public figures can generally ignore them. A march cannot force action. Using a whole bunch of gas to drive to New York seems counterproductive as well (although, public transportation and chartered buses and trains should help with that!).

However, in the United States, the electorate can force action, and a really BIG march is an indication of what the electorate will do. Large demonstrations can bring a lot of pressure to bear even in non-democratic countries (as in the Arab Spring) and they have been effective in the United States in the past even when most of the marches effectively could not vote (as in the civil rights marches).

Marches matter if people show up to march in them.

I have covered other demonstrations on this blog before. In the process I’ve discovered that a lot of people who might want to go typically don’t find out about the march in time and that media coverage of the demonstration itself is generally very minimal. I therefore humbly offer the following suggestions:

  • Encourage your friends and associates–everyone you know–to go to the march
  • If you belong to a political or activist organization of some type, get involved as a group
  • Go on the march, if you can
  • If you cannot, on the day of the march, contact your elected representatives to tell them to act on climate change
  • Encourage everyone you know to also contact their elected representatives on that day
  • After the march, check your local newspapers and news broadcasts and for favorite online news sources. If any do not cover the march, write in or email them to complain. Your letters could get published, making YOU a journalist covering the event.

There are people who don’t want to do anything about climate change for various reasons. Many of them probably cannot be convinced. However, it is easy to forget that a lot of people DO take the issue seriously. A demonstration is a good time to stand up and be counted.