The Climate March, Political Demand or People's Imperative?

One in four Americans is a firm skeptic of global warming, according to an April Gallup poll. Educating these dissenters is one of the main objectives of the People's Climate March, set to take place this Sunday in New York City.

The September 21 event will kick off a week of activities aimed at raising awareness around climate change. Not coincidentally, the events come at a time when 120 world leaders will be gathered in New York City for the 2014 UN Climate Summit. Organizers of the climate march are hoping this timely demonstration will turn enough global attention toward anthropogenic global warming to curb it on a substantial scale.

Diverse Stakeholders

More than 100,000 people are expected to participate in the climate march, which will be divided into contiguous sections that help convey the narrative of the climate movement. At the front of the march will be those on the "frontlines" of the crisis; i.e. those most impacted by climate change, such as indigenous communities whose subsistence farming, fishing and/or hunting activities suffer first-hand the effects of a changing climate. The second wave will be comprised of families, students and other representatives of the theme, "we can build the future." The third section features envoys from renewable energy, food and water justice, and environmental organizations espousing the notion that solutions exist and a just transition is possible. Next, anti-corporate campaigns and the like will call out those who are acting as barriers to progress, carrying the message "we know who is responsible." Following them will be scientists, interfaith and others with the conclusive message that 'the debate is over and the facts are in'. Concluding the procession will be delegates from various communities, and anyone is invited to join, to exemplify solidarity and collaborative progress.

What Does A Successful March Look Like?

The message and the motivations behind the climate awareness march are quite clear -- global climate change is everybody's problem. But what does a successful campaign instigate? What are the calls to action of this demonstration? Will deniers be convinced?

Organizers of the march call it "an invitation to change everything," but there are no suggested actions other than to show up on Sunday and take a very visible walk. The eyes of the world will be watching the event, but as it turns out, we laymen are not necessarily the targets of its persuasive appeals. Politicians are.

"There is no replacement for human bodies, standing as one, voices raised as one, making a political demand," asserts an interviewee in Disruption, a documentary featured on the People's Climate website. The hope is that world leaders will enact policies that mitigate global warming, such as the EPA's Clean Power Plan. But without a proposed list of actionable items, it will be interesting to see what develops out of the summit in light of a 100,000 man demonstration.

The People's Climate

Perhaps leaving the issue on the doorstep of the UN summit in hopes that the attendees will adopt it and raise it as their own is not the only approach, especially in light of the political inertia surrounding the perilous state of the planet. There is, in fact, more that we can do than to assemble and march, and the organizers might do well to leverage that fact in the face of a mobilized crowd. Let's see workshops at climate week that equip laymen with actionable steps they can take today to align themselves with how the future will need to look. Let's connect people with information like where to get local food, how to find a good energy auditor, and existing government incentives or funding programs aimed at energy efficiency and renewables. The UN is no doubt a great place to start, but it is imperative to empower the public by providing a roadmap, or at least a few signposts, toward a sustainable society.

Correcting the 25 percent of Americans that reject the science of climate change, encouraging jobseekers and graduates to pursue careers in renewable energy, investing time and money in sustainable alternatives to petroleum based resources -- these are the opportunities that lie in such a movement. While it is infinitely important to encourage the heads of state in attendance at the climate summit to enact tangible change, there is nothing more demoralizing than having expectations for those in power to solve your problems and having them not be realized. There is undeniable potential in the motivated masses, marching with purpose and urgency, poised to make a difference.