Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Save The Bay Joins 400,000 at NYC Climate Change March

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to join nearly 400,000 fellow climate activists in New York City for what was referred to as the “People’s Climate March” – the largest climate change march in history. Having been part of several rallies and marches around climate change and clean energy over the years, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. However, by the end of the day I left pleasantly surprised at the march’s success, cautiously optimistic about its potential impact and excited about what we could accomplish at the local level to be part of the solution.

The march was slated to begin at 11:30AM at the southwest corner of Central Park and wind its way down Sixth Avenue through midtown Manhattan. March organizers had estimated a crowd somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 to 200,000 with charter buses being organized from across the eastern U.S. (including an impressive nine buses from Rhode Island.) My wife and I arrived (a bit late) in time to watch the beginning of the march make the turn from 59th Street onto Sixth Avenue, where marchers were loud, enthusiastic and densely packed onto New York’s wide streets. Unlike many past climate-focused events, the march was noticeably diverse with communities of color, indigenous peoples and other nationalities well represented near the front of the march. Also noteworthy was the large (and boisterous) presence from organized labor: Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Auto Workers (UAW), International Brotherhood of Electrical Works (IBEW) and Teamsters, to name a few.

We decided to watch the march go by for a bit before jumping in ourselves, as it’s difficult to capture the scope, scale and feel of any march when you’re moving with it. After a couple of hours we assumed “OK…the end must be coming soon.” Not even close. I got a text message around 2:00 (more than two hours after the start) from a friend who arrived late on a bus from Ohio that she was near the start of the march where folks were STILL lining up to participate. Wow! I had already easily seen the organizers’ goal of 150,000 people march by, with at least tens of thousands still behind them, when we decided to jump in.

I was impressed by the overall feel and tenor of the march, which contained hints of passion and frustration (over the lack of political action to date on the issue) but also had an overall vibe of hope and steadfast determination to solve the climate crisis. The marchers included young and old, black and white, students and scientists, atheists and faith leaders, Democrats and Republicans, long-time
activists, labor leaders, doctors and nurses and scores of others concerned about the climate crisis. By the time we reached the end, I was inspired, energized and hopeful that momentum continues to build for both political and market-based solutions to address the problem.

After spending the bulk of the past decade working on climate change and energy policy in my home state of Ohio - where most of the focus is on reducing Ohio’s relatively-large contribution of greenhouse gas emissions – I’m now in a state on the “front line” of the climate crisis. Climate change is no longer a theoretical issue about what may or may not happen in the future. Climate change is here, and the impacts of climate change will be felt for years to come in Rhode Island. As politicians in Washington and world leaders from around the globe discuss and debate what actions to take, those of us in coastal states like Rhode Island must act.

The good news is that a lot can be done at the state and local levels to deal with impacts already being felt and prepare for the impacts yet to come, while also doing our part to reduce emissions at the root of the problem.   In Rhode Island, Governor Chafee and the General Assembly established the RI Climate Change Coordinating Council to drive and integrate state and municipal work on climate change. All of the advocates for this action - Save The Bay included - will work to ensure that climate change is factored into the decisions of state and local environmental and coastal
management authorities. We continue to work with local communities to adapt coastal habitats to rising sea levels, as well as modernize wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to deal with more extreme weather events.

Marches and rallies are an important advocacy tool, but those of us “on the front lines” of climate change in states like Rhode Island need to do all we can, when and where we can, to deal with the impacts here and now. Consistent with our mission to “protect and improve Narragansett Bay,” Save The Bay is championing the protection of the Bay’s ecological health, the public’s right to access the shoreline, and the protection of clean water infrastructure that is essential to a healthy Bay.

-Jed Thorp
 Grants Writer, Save The Bay 

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