On Sunday, September 17, 2023, an estimated 75,000 people gathered in Manhattan for a Climate March; its main goal was to demonstrate against fossil fuels and seek an end to their use. Starting on Broadway (in the upper ’50s), the March moved south, then east, with the United Nations Headquarters its goal. There, three days later, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, would host a Climate Action Summit, intended to pressure world leaders in government, business and finance to accelerate cuts in carbon emissions.
As can be seen in the first four crowd pictures below, taken before the March began moving, this was an enormous gathering. Broadway was wall-to-wall people. One March organizer, Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity, called it the largest climate protest in the US since the start of the pandemic; Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of several speakers at the March, said “We must be too big and too radical to ignore.” The March was just one of over 650 global climate protests that took place that week.
Climate Defenders is a New York organization whose goal is to put an end to the fossil fuel industry by eliminating oil and gas infrastructure, particularly across America’s Northeast and the Great Lakes regions, and by forcing banks to divest their fossil fuel holdings. It describes itself as a movement “fueled by joyful resistance, bold defiance, and relentless determination.”
This woman came to New York from Minnesota, carrying a life-sized cardboard image of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish student who, at age 15 in August of 2018, began skipping school on Fridays to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament–outside–while holding a sign reading School Strike for Climate. Soon others joined her, and by the end of the year “tens of thousands of students across Europe began skipping school on Fridays to protest their own leaders’ inaction,” as Time magazine stated when it named her its 2019 Person of the Year.
This man holds up one of Thunberg’s quotations, spoken once she became famous and began meeting with leaders and organizations the world over. “I want you to panic…I want you to act,” reads part of the quotation on his sign. With these words, she addressed to the attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos (January 2019).
In September of that year, she admonished the heads of state at the U.N. General Assembly, saying: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
This man, dressed as a Monarch Butterfly, toddler on his arm, reminds us that butterflies are highly sensitive to Climate Change. Most particularly, temperature changes adversely affect butterfly migration, hibernation, and reproduction.
Besides being beautiful, delicate and endangered, butterflies are one of nature’s important pollinators. Without pollinators, the earth’s ecosystems (and the human race) would not survive.
How fitting to find this oversized head of Fred Rogers at the March, along with younger children, all promoting an end to the use of fossil fuels. Because fossil fuels are the primary source of air pollution and climate change, they pose a particular danger to children. Prenatal exposure to air pollutants contribute to reduced IQ in children, as well as to anxiety, depression and inattention. Also, keep in mind that poor children are disproportionately affected by diseases from air pollution and climate change.
Fossil fuels–coal, oil and gas–are the largest contributors to climate change. Besides creating greenhouse gas emissions which trap the suns’s heat and cause global warming, the unearthing, processing, and transportation of oil, gas and coal degrade our land and our ecosystems, contribute to water pollution (whether our waterways, groundwater, or toxic runoffs), and cause air pollution (from drilling and transportation even before burning).
The words Fossil Fool are not only a rhyming play with Fuel, by the way. A Fossil Fools Day was inaugurated in the United States and Canada on April 1, 2004.
The United States has 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines, the largest network in the world. Even before they leak or explode, pipelines destroy the ecosystems through which they run, disrupting communities and livelihoods. As Maggie O’Hanlon wrote in April, “Any new fossil fuel infrastructure threatens our ability to prevent catastrophic warming. So why are we still building pipelines?”
Disregarding the pipeline oil spills which have “contaminated the drinking water of millions of households and businesses,” pipeline routing decisions usually affect citizens who lack political influence and are “marginalized by systemic racism and White supremacy.”
New Mexico is the sixth fastest warming state in the US. Along with many other states, it suffers from enormous reductions in snowpack, streamflows, groundwater recharge, and soil moisture–all the results of Climate Change. One of the consequences is more severe and frequent wildfires–the largest in the state’s history so far being the 2022 Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire which destroyed 298,060 acres.
Uganda, with its economy so heavily reliant upon agriculture, ranks the 13th country in the world in vulnerability to climate change, and 160th (out of 192 nations) in its readiness to confront this threat. A majority of its citizens are demanding that their government act immediately to counter climate change.
Unfortunately, President Museveni is working with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation–CNOOC–to begin producing oil by 2025. CNOOC has begun drilling production wells at its Kingfisher oilfield on the shores of Lake Albert. As already stated, the production and burning of fossil fuels is harmful to our planet. Fossil fuels are an unsustainable resource. These Ugandans demonstrate for sustainability–the idea that all people are able to meet their needs far into the future.
Ugandans understand–and demonstrate against–their government prioritizing profit over sustainability.
The term, Climate Justice, refers to the need to counter “the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color around the world,” particularly as these communities are the least responsible for the causes of climate change.
Towns and cities, both coastal and inland, are increasingly subjected to flooding. Sea levels rise as glaciers melt. Warmer water expands. Flash flooding increases and is less predictable as the world experiences more extreme precipitation events.
A mere week-and-a-half after this Climate March, New York City’s businesses, residences and subway systems were flooded by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia. JFK Airport reported 8.65 inches of rainfall, a record for any September day since Hurricane Donna ravaged the east Coast in 1960.
Unions, of course, want to protect workers, particularly those in high-risk industries in which exposure to high outdoor temperatures can be deadly. Also, as certain industries transition to clean energy manufacturing, as in electric cars or wind and solar power, unions want to insure that workers remain central to these changes.
One organization that keeps labor unions at the center of climate action is the BlueGreen Alliance, founded in 2006 by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. It’s focus is maintaining and insuring a symbiosis of good jobs and a clean environment. The BlueGreen Alliance goal, as stated by its leader, John Walsh, is “to build a clean energy economy that not only takes the climate crisis head on, but also takes on the crisis of economic and racial inequality in this country.”
We can be sure that this woman “didn’t vote for fires and floods,” but did she vote at all?
According to the Environmental Voter Project, some 8 million “environmentalists” didn’t vote in the presidential election of 2020 and more than 13 million registered voters neglected to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. One can only hope that such dismal statistics will be offset by new, younger voters, given that “young people think climate change is a top issue.”
However, Emma Buretta, a New York City High School student and organizer of Fridays for Future, spoke directly to President Biden at the March, saying: “Biden, you should be scared of us…If you want our vote, if you don’t want the blood of our generations to be on your hands, end fossil fuels.” Now, Biden actually has done quite a bit to promote renewable energy in America. But then, he also has approved new oil and gas drilling permits; because of this, he may need to do even better if he is to win the votes of our younger citizens.
In an article of 2021 by Jeffrey Sachs titled “Climate Change is About Greed. It’s Time For Big OiI To Pay Us Back,” an ExxonMobil lobbyist admits to fighting science and gaslighting about climate change. This was his justification: “We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.” In other words, greed determined Exxon’s corporate lies.
Greed, of course, is part of human nature. It is one of the Seven Deadly Sins as enumerated by Gregory the Great in the 6th century. More currently, we surely remember Michael Douglas (as Gordon Gekko) saying, “Greed…is good,” in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Big Oil is hardly the first greedy corporate entity. However, its greed may be the most dangerous threat to life on earth. Last year CA Mohit Rastogi wrote an article titled “Human greed: a growing threat to climate change.” He begins by quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
Gandhi, as we remember, considered the earth as a living organism, and he saw us, We the People, as its custodians.
Clearly, Earth Matters! As the theoretical chemist, John Scales Avery, warns: “If the international community does not act immediately and effectively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, tipping points will be passed, after which feedback loops…will take over, making human efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change useless.” Absolutely, Earth Matters!
Besides Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” whose residents have a 700 times greater likelihood to get cancer than the national average because of its many petrochemical plants and refineries, there are Sacrifice Zones across the globe in which businesses “overlook social and environmental costs in favour of their bottom line.”
I titled this photo, The Earth Is Bleeding, only later to find a set of photographs taken in 2019 in which photographer Torlief Lie captures the destruction of our earth by the extraction industry. Stephen Perloff describes Lie’s photographs in this way: “It’s as if Mother Earth is bleeding from our assaults. These are not beautiful images, but haunting and frightening ones.” Be sure to open this link. See for yourself!
Whether we are religious or not, most of us, when asked, will agree that our planet is sacred. However, Christianity is contradictory on this issue. Christians are almost as likely to embrace the theology of dominionism (believing that God gave humans the right to use the Earth and its resources) as they are the theology of stewardship (believing that God gave humans the responsibility to protect the Earth). Another interesting contradiction, according to the Pew Research Center, is that “Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party are slightly more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to say the Earth is sacred.”
As an offshoot of Earth Matters and the Planet Is Sacred, this statement–Our Church Is the Land–implies some form of communion with the earth and its power to sustain human life.
Vocal New York is a grassroots organization led by low-income people of color and dedicated to improving their lives.
We Act (for Environmental Justice), founded in Harlem in 1988, serves low-income people of color similarly to improving their lives.
Besides protecting the free exercise of religion, the First Amendment to our Constitution protects the freedom of speech, assembly and the right to petition the Government for the redress of grievances. In the context of environmental and climate justice, the First Amendment is being shredded by Big Oil. The Fossil Fuel Industry has been using SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and other anti-protest laws to silence the speech of its critics through lengthy, but meritless, litigation.
At the same time as the Fossil Fuel Industry is being challenged for its greenwashing, misrepresenting and disinformation about climate change, it also claims that its freedom of speech (i.e. its “freedom” to lie to the public) is being restricted.
It may be that the biggest loss of marine diversity comes from industrial-scale fishing. However, oil spills and warmer waters are increasingly endangering fish populations. In June, we witnessed photographs of thousands of dead fish in Freeport, Texas. These fish died from mass suffocation caused by oxygen loss, due to the fact that warmer water holds less oxygen. Mass die-offs of fish are happening now around the globe. To counter this, “we need to stop burning fossil fuels immediately.” So says climate scientist James Renwick.
Turtle populations are being adversely affected because of more severe storms (leading to beach erosion and loss of nesting places), higher temperatures (which disrupt the sex of hatchlings), and changing ocean circulation.
Warming waters reduce the availability of food as well as of habitats for many whales. Humpbacks and North Atlantic right whales are especially vulnerable to Climate Change. Killer whales may lose access to their normal prey. Beluga whales may lose their normal migration routes because of changing ice patterns.
Given the recent anti-military positions taken by such Republicans as Donald Trump or Tommy Tuberville, we might assume that this elephant has something to do with the GOP. It doesn’t. It is simply the “elephant in the room,” the looming presence which nobody wants to mention.
This is because the US Military is “one of the largest climate polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more CO2e (carbon-dioxide equivalent) than most countries.”
The title of a Mother Jones article from October 2022 says it all: “Why the Pentagon Is the World’s Biggest Single Greenhouse Gas Emitter.”
Code Pink, the organization responsible for making the elephant visible in this March, is also known as Women for Peace. It focuses on anti-war issues.
Possibly the largest potential force fighting Climate Change is youth. There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10-24 in the world. Their future, more than anyone’s, is threatened by Global Warming and Climate Change, and they believe that we–the older generation–have failed them. Whether Youth for Climate and Fridays for Future (inspired by Greta Thunberg) or The Last Generation, or Earth Guardians, or Sunrise Movement, or Youth Climate Strike, or so many other youth organizations, our young people have awakened.
There is hope. In August, sixteen young people (ages 5 to 22) won a lawsuit against the state of Montana for violating their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.” In September, President Biden announced that his Climate Corps initiative will train more than 20,000 youth to fight Climate Change.
Indeed, our youth give us hope.
The Indigenous Environmental Network, formed in 1990 and headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota, is an environmental justice movement that champions indigenous communities and protects land, air, water, other natural resources as well as sacred sites. On the national front, it has been instrumental in fights against the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. More locally, yet as importantly, it influences policies and promotes environmentally-sound lifestyles that affect all Indigenous Peoples.
Nicola Jones, writing for YaleEnvironment360, reminds us that “indigenous tribes are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” given “their deep ties to the land and reliance on fishing, hunting, and gathering.” Thus, this magnificent banner serves them well. They have earned its visual eminence, given their more than two centuries of being forced “onto the country’s least desirable land” by “policies — first imposed by white settlers and later the United States government.”
This forced displacement of a people is world-wide and not restricted to the United States. As a United Nations document on climate change states, “climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities worldwide, even though indigenous peoples contribute the least to greenhouse emissions.”
Line 5, which was built in 1953, crosses the Straits of Mackinac (the juncture of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan), carrying 540,000 barrels-per-day of light crude/light synthetic crude/natural gas liquids. This is a disaster waiting to happen. University of Michigan scientists call this location “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” and this is a 70-year-old battered and dented pipeline!
Although Governor Whitmer and the State of Michigan ordered Enbridge (the pipeline owner) to cease operations by May 12, 2021, the company continues to stall and refuse the court order.
Two Potawatomi Tribes joined ten other First Nations Tribes to rebuke Canada’s support of the Line 5 Pipeline, submitting a petition in April to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The petition read, in part, “Canada’s support for Line 5 is part of its pattern of favoring the fossil fuel industry over Indigenous rights. We call on the Canadian Government to…respect and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and prioritize the pursuit of a sustainable future.”
The Potawatomi have been environmentally active for decades. In a Climate Change conference the Tribe held back in 2008, one elder observed how certain animals were getting weaker, as were medicinal plants, and he no longer heard the toads and birds upon whom he relied for forecasting. “The earth is trying to tell us something,” he concluded. Other speakers noted drying springs, changes in the forest ecosystems, invasions of exotic plants and insects, changing weather patterns, diseases in moose, interruptions in bird migrations, disruptions in plant growth…and the litany went on.
Whether the micro observations provided by our Indigenous Peoples or the macro observations provided by our Scientific Communities, we cannot help but realize that the earth is changing. For a quick and enlightening tour of our future world, I invite you to scroll through “The New World. Envisioning Life After Climate Change” by David Wallace-Wells.