On the March for Climate Change Action

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Tompkins Weekly 8-11-14

By Richard W. Franke

Journalist, author and climate activist Bill McKibben and thousands of others are organizing the largest ever climate justice demonstration to coincide with the United Nations Climate Crisis Summit that will take place starting September 23 at UN headquarters in NYC (http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/).

The mass march will be the culmination of a week of climate change protest and actions in NYC. Details for the actions will be available on the 350.org website (http://350.org) that will also provide information about the route of the march that is currently being negotiated with the City.

It’s not too soon to make plans to go, however. We in Tompkins County should provide a strong contingent, consistent with our area’s impressive record of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously planning as best we can to mitigate the unavoidable consequences of climate change in our area. We have a vigorous county energy plan, a city/town sustainability officer and Sustainability Center, thriving local climate justice and social justice organizations such as Sustainable Tompkins, Building Bridges and many others, active solar buying clubs, three ecovillages, vigorous local food and food justice work, the local community owned Black Oak Wind Farm almost under construction and numerous other small scale initiatives.

Global warming and the ensuing climate change it is causing, however, also require national and international actions on a massive scale. McKibben laid out some of the parameters in his July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719). This article is also linked at 350.org). To avoid a greater than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) increase in average global temperature, computer models suggest we can release only 535 gigatons (giga=billion) of CO2 into the atmosphere over the next few decades. But 2,795 gigatons of CO2 are in proven reserves of fossil fuels.

How to keep those 2,260 “extra” gigatons out of the atmosphere? Organizations and individuals at all levels have to pull investments out of fossil fuels and reinvest them in low or no carbon energy production. Greater efficiency in energy use is also needed. Technically we know how to do these things. In March of 2013 Stanford University engineering and atmospheric sciences professor Mark Z. Jacobson and 12 other scientists published an article in the academic journal Energy Policy arguing that New York State’s entire energy infrastructure could be 100% powered by wind, water and sunlight by the year 2030 (http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf). Jacobson et al argue that in addition to saving the atmosphere, such an infrastructure would create jobs and improve public health. Recently they have set up “the solutions project” to illustrate how their ideas could be implemented across the entire U.S (http://thesolutionsproject.org/). By extrapolation, they could be applied worldwide. Simultaneously with the U.N. Climate Crisis Summit another group, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, will be issuing a somewhat less ambitious but important Pathways to Deep Decarbonization (http://unsdsn.org/what-we-do/deep-decarbonization-pathways/).

These and other recent studies and reports indicate that many of the engineering and policy choices are fairly well developed and understood. What is needed now is a giant public push. Actually, several. Like the People’s Climate March.

The march also has the potential to help unite environmental and social justice activists who have sometimes felt alienated from each other in the past. One sign of this is the strong support for the People’s Climate March by Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/lacing_up_for_historic_climate_justice_march/), a federation of activist organizations that emphasize bringing greater justice to the poor and to people of color.

Like other mass demonstrations in recent history, the People’s Climate March has the potential to energize and activate people far beyond its street activists and far after the march day. It can help create a cultural mood of activism and it reminds the participants that we are part of something big. I hope to see you there. No, actually I hope it’s so big I can’t find you amongst the tens of thousands chanting and carrying placards on September 21, 2014. Instead I’ll see you at a follow up meeting in Tompkins County to hear your experiences and feelings about how to move forward.

Richard W. Franke writes about the history of sustainability. He is professor emeritus of anthropology at Montclair State University, a resident of Ecovillage at Ithaca and a board member of Sustainable Tompkins.


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