Last Sunday, some 400,000 of my friends took part in The People’s Climate March. They marched through midtown Manhattan to protest climate change and the attendant issues of warming and ice melting and polar bears dying. This was a way of marking the UN’s Climate summit, scheduled for this week–luminaries marching included United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon. The Sunday event was for the cameras. The Monday event, Flood Wall Street, was far smaller, but was planned to be a forum for civil disobedience–the idea was to have a ‘flood’ of protesters wearing blue go past the Stock Exchange, as a metaphor for the water that will routinely flood across lower Manhattan should sea levels go up as expected over the next 30 years. Some 102 people were arrested, including the polar bear from Sunday. He now has a publicist.
There have been some articles cited in conservative and even mainstream sources about how the Sunday Attendees left so much trash. Part of this sniping is the usual suspects. And even my lefty friends are making the point that they should not have littered, though some say that trash cans were removed along the march route (trash baskets are excellent hiding places for IED’s should someone want to cause trouble). A longtime march organizer publicly chided the organizers for not planning for the onslaught of cups and bottles. But there is a point lost here. The people marching last Sunday should be the most eco-savvy 400,000 people in this country, and they’re using non-recycleable cups and plastic water bottles (which in the US use up 17 million barrels of oil a year, never mind the shipping and transport). And for those coming in from other places by airline, how many of them bought carbon offsets for all that J4?
Many years ago, I took part in a multi-day peace walk in Holland. The Dutch organizers (among others) were absolutely appalled when we Americans stopped off for things like bottled water or cans of soda. They knew the source of every single piece of trash accumulated, and they shamed us for buying disposable things made from plastic (aluminum was a different outrage–most of it came from French factories that were fueled by nuclear power). Doing the right thing by climate is just not consistent with the way most Americans live their lives.
The movement is going to be under scrutiny now that there’s traction in the climate change movement–everybody has heard the Right’s favorite bromide about Al Gore’s private jet. We have to be the first to take personal responsibility for our own carbon footprint. And it’s probably not going to be a walk in the park–most other industrialized nations keep energy prices high for a variety of different reasons. As a result, people there do energy efficient things that Americans wouldn’t dream of. Many German families unplug all their ‘instant on’ appliances when not in use, for example. The Japanese recycle gray water from their dishwashers. Danes bicycle to work or school in winter weather. And then there are gas prices–upwards of $9 a gallon in Belgium and Holland, in the mid $8 range in Germany and a bit lower in France (as I write this).
And with all of these energy-saving policies in place, the EU STILL has to reduce Carbon emissions by 80% come 2030. Ponder what would have to happen to bring that number down considering what most Europeans are already doing in terms of energy. Are Americans ready to do any of this? And if they’re not, how can we stop runaway carbon and methane long enough to avoid near-term human extinction?
Thankfully, most of the eco-folks have admitted that Sunday was not the end of a process but a beginning.
Still waiting to see what ‘bold initiative’ comes out of this UN meeting.