Historical climate march puts heat on United Nations

OVER 400,000 PEOPLE MARCHED to show their interest in a global solution.

In response to the United Nations Climate Summit, over 400,000 attended the People’s Climate March on September 21, in New York City. The largest climate-related march in history by attendance, the People’s Climate March’s mission was to demonstrate the level of public interest in political action regarding climate change to the over 120 heads of state intending to attend the UN Climate Summit two days later.

The Climate Summit 2014 is a general forum on climate change hosted by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. The meeting focuses on initiatives and actions regarding climate change by world leaders, in preparation for the 2014 UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru in December of this year. In Lima, a universal, legally binding treaty is to be negotiated for signing at Council of Parties 21 in Paris next year. The goal of this agreement is to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions such that the global temperature change from human activity is limited to two degrees Celsius. Ki-Moon organized Climate Summit 2014 in response to the failures of negotiations at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and at COP19 in Warsaw in 2013.

The People’s Climate March was announced and initially organized in May 2014 by 350.org, an organization seeking to return atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to 350 parts per million, which is lead by American environmentalist Bill McKibben. Early on, environmentalist groups and labor unions united in organizing the march, since both groups believe reducing climate change would benefit the members of both groups. The organizers of the march released a one-hour video two weeks before the march entitled “Disruption,” which included interviews with organizers, scientists, and celebrities detailing the reasons for organizing the march, the current status and future projections of climate change, and encouraging all who watch the movie to attend the march.

Among the attendees of the march were numerous celebrities and elected officials, including UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, actor Joseph-Gordon Levitt, actor Mark Ruffalo, former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, actor Edward Norton, and US Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont. The marchers included scientists, and members of religious, environmentalist, LGBTQ , and indigenous groups. The large diversity of the over 1,500 groups in attendance included Planned Parenthood, United Auto Workers, numerous colleges, the Sierra Club, the Freedom Socialist Party, and the Buddhist Association of the United States. A group of students from RPI was in attendance, mostly representing the Vasudha Living and Learning Community.

It remains to be seen how effective the People’s Climate March will be in influencing public policy. On the measure of attendance, the final turnout of over 400,000 greatly exceeded the organizers expectations of 100,000. No violence erupted, in accordance with the wishes of the organizers. Since Climate Summit 2014 will not directly produce any legally binding documents, the full effects of the Climate March will be revealed at COP21.