A swarm of demonstrators demanding action on climate change will flood Manhattan on September 21 for the People's Climate March, certain to be the largest environmental protest in human history.
More than 1,000 organizations have pledged support, including heavyweights like Greenpeace and Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. At the center stands Bill McKibben, founder of the global climate activist group 350.org and recipient of the 2010 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.
The prize, an annual $100,000 award given to an "individual who has challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative and socially responsible work of significance," went to McKibben largely for his instrumental role in assembling the massive grassroots movement calling on governments to tackle climate change.
McKibben spelled out his hopes for the upcoming march — which even has a companion film called Disruption, featuring 2008 Puffin Prize-winner Van Jones — in his Rolling Stone call-to-arms earlier this year:
"The pieces are in place, but the pieces won't move themselves. That's where movements come in. They're not subtle; they can't manage all the details of this transition. But they can build up pressure on the system, enough, with luck, to blow out those bags of money that are blocking progress with the force of Typhoon Haiyan on a Filipino hut. Because if our resistance fails, there will be ever-stronger typhoons. The moment to salvage something of the Holocene is passing fast. But it hasn't passed yet, which is why September is so important."
In late August the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collection of the world's top climate scientists widely considered the preeminent authority on global warming, released its latest draft report. The New York Times summarized bluntly, "Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control."
The New York City march comes days before the United Nations' Climate Summit 2014, meant to catalyze agreement ahead of the major Paris talks in 2015 — seen by some as the last chance to dodge a future rife with dangerous levels of climate change.
In 2012, amidst the hottest year ever in the United States, McKibben penned an article that went "wickedly viral" for Rolling Stone. He spelled out the "terrifying new math" that has marchers ready to take to the Manhattan streets: "We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain."
China, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, recently announced plans for a country-wide carbon market. The price of solar photovoltaic cells has dropped an incredible 99 percent since 1977. Yet, in America, as Michael Klare writes, "we have a global warming president presiding over a massive expansion of fossil fuel production." It's time for the US to meaningfully address climate change, and huge crowds will join McKibben in demanding just that on September 21st.