New Yorkers are lucky — not only do they get to live in the most dynamic city on the planet, but every once in a while they get to weigh in with extra leverage on the planet’s most pressing issues. Because, of course, New York is the world’s city — and will never be more so than this September.
U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has summoned world leaders to the United Nations for talks about the planet’s climate — for talks, that is, about the single most urgent problem our earth has faced in the period of human civilization. Those world leaders will come, and the weekend before they get there, all kinds of people will pour into the streets to send them a message: Act. Now.
GOT A COUCH?
When thousands of people descend on New York City for the weekend of the People’s Climate March, Sept. 20-21, they’ll need a welcome — and a couch to crash on.
You can help too. Both individuals and community institutions are being called on to house the incomers, and organizers have made it easy to sign up.
If you can host as an individual, visit humanhotel.com. The Human Hotel project debuted in 2009 during the last major U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen, and was able to facilitate housing for more than 3,000 climate protesters. The website will match hosts and guests who want to stay one or more nights between Sept. 19 and 22, and those providing accommodations can apply to get reimbursements for utility costs.
If you can host through an institution such as a community or faith center, sign up by getting in touch with the march’s Faith Working Group. The first step is to fill out the form at bit.ly/PCMhousing, and the working group will take it from there. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The suggested date for welcoming folks in is September 20, and if the institution can open its doors for longer, the 19th and 21st as well.
—The Indypendent Staff
The People’s Climate March — set to take place in the middle of Manhattan on Sunday, September 21 — will be the biggest rally of its kind in history. And it will be the most diverse: the organizers include New York environmental justice heroes like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre, who have been dealing with issues like asthma and waste incineration for decades. Labor leaders from 46 different unions, including George Gresham from SIEU Local 1199, Hector Figueroa from SEIU Local 32 BJ, Chris Erikson from Local Union No. 3 IBEW, Lillian Roberts from District Council 37, AFSCME and Mike Mulgrew from United Federation of Teachers-AFT will march with their members to demand government action not only to address climate change, but to use this opportunity to create good jobs for working people across the country. Students at CUNY, Columbia and NYU who have been demanding their schools divest their vast endowments from fossil fuels will be present. And that’s only the beginning: to date, several hundred organizations have committed to participating in the march, and the list is growing.
Anyone who still wonders about why the climate movement has mushroomed so quickly from its beginnings among scientists and energy experts need only remember Hurricane Sandy. Riding overheated ocean currents and swelling on a sea level already elevated by melting glaciers, it turned New York into a science fiction movie set. The subway tunnels, lifelines of the city, were flooded and impassable; electric power was gone for half of Manhattan; the coastal communities of Brooklyn and Staten Island were turned to wreckage.
But remember: New York’s the global city. Which means that it is filled with people whose roots are elsewhere, and those other places are being wrecked even faster, often without the resources to recover. That’s why there will be protesters from the Pacific Islands, whose countries are literally disappearing, and immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America, whose homes are bearing the brunt of climate change even though they’ve done little or nothing to cause the problem.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that this march or anything like it will actually work. Sometimes we rally in the streets and nothing happens — George W. Bush did just keep on with his plans to invade Iraq, for example. But sometimes — sometimes it works.
Throughout U.S. history, mass protests in the streets have paved the way for significant change. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom gave rise to civil rights legislation as well as the 1960s war on poverty. One of the last great protests in New York City, the early 1980s gathering of nuclear freeze proponents, brought hundreds of thousands of people to Central Park. They made it clear that the zeitgeist was shifting from a world where nuclear deterrence was a given to one where it was considered an unacceptable defense policy. Even Ronald Reagan got the message, and within a couple of years he was talking with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev about abolishing the weapons altogether.
Climate change is a huge, hard problem: coal, gas and oil are knit into the fabric of our lives (though less so in New York than almost anywhere else in the country, since small apartments and good mass transit means the city is greenish almost by default). But the real reason it’s so hard to solve is not that we lack the renewable energy technology to replace fossil fuels, but that there’s so much money stacked up on the side of the fossil fuel industry. Its wheelers and dealers were able to blow up the last major U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009. And left to their own devices they’ll wreck this U.N. session too.
That’s why we need to demonstrate to our politicians that money isn’t everything. We need to show them that they should fear us as well: that people are finally emboldened, ready to act and ready to lead. If we show up in massive numbers, they’ll think twice the next time a fossil fuel lobbyist tells them what to do.
Having the United Nations call New York home — and bring with it its diplomatic plates and privileges, motorcades and requisite police presence — can be kind of a pain. But it does make New Yorkers special — just a short walk or subway ride away, they have the closest thing there is to the center of the world. If there was ever a reason for nations to unite, global warming is it. And if there was ever a moment for New Yorkers to be their beautiful pushy selves, then September 21 is the day.
Bill McKibben is a co-founder of 350.org and author of 15 books on the environment, including The End of Nature and Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.