On September 21, 350.org and a host of supporting groups are planning the People’s Climate March in New York City. They expect about 100,000 people at the event and I’ll be there with my family. Seven days later world leaders will meet at the United Nations Climate Summit. Will any of this make a difference in the world’s dramatic and soon-to-be irreversible march toward an environmental Armageddon?
On June 12, 1982, my family and I marched at the largest demonstration to ever take place in New York City. It was an amazing event that drew about 1,000,000 people. Marching in the streets of midtown Manhattan toward the demos destination of Central Park was an exhilarating experience, seeing literally legions of people among the intersecting streets and avenues en route to the park. Did this massive show of revulsion at the nuclear arms race accomplish anything?
It was the general secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who championed and ultimately persevered against the rabid reactionary Ronald Reagan and set the stage for the eventual triumph of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987. Before the treaty, Reagan, perhaps more delusional than a “Great Communicator,” had mused about all-out nuclear warfare between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with his ear turned to the religious fundamentalists who were then ascendant during his administration.
What does the track record tell me as someone who has fought against the prevailing winds for over forty-five years? It seems to me that we’re a species that either can’t or won’t get out of our own way. Even in the face of one environmental disaster after another, greed and shortsighted policies and behaviors affect not just the powerful and wealthy (Is there a difference anymore?), but the average Jane and Joe on the streets and everyone in-between.
If the vast majority of fossil fuels don’t stay in the ground then this planet will burn up in even a worse display of drought than California is experiencing now and worse inundations than the Northeast Coast of the U.S. experienced during Hurricane Sandy. Pacific islands will be submerged underwater, and humanity itself will begin to disappear as food shortages become rampant.
According to a United Nations climate report, the melting of the ice sheet covering Greenland could result in a 23 foot rise in sea level if greenhouse gases continue to be produced from fossil fuels burning at their projected rate of consumption (“U.N. Draft Report Lists Unchecked Emissions’ Risks,” the New York Times, August 26, 2014). The Greenland ice sheet and the continued melting of Antarctic and Arctic ice would be “unstoppable.”
As a species, we’re caught up in consumption and wasteful habits that draw our collective attention away from the clear and present danger of climate disaster. We can’t even get it right with the recurrent genocides that have plagued the species in the 20th century and mass atrocities in nation after nation in the lust for power and wealth through violence. Even on the streets of this nation, many are unsafe simply because of the chance assignment of their skin color or gender.
It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s worth staying active no matter what outcomes appear inevitable. That is what human hope is all about. Heed the rallying cry of the Vietnam antiwar movement: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Mass movements of people have worked before and they can work again. The streets of New York City are too beautiful to lose to the juggernaut of greed and stupidity. And so are the streets of every other nation on Earth, the manifold species that populate this planet, the rivers, the streams, the mountains and the meadows. It’s worth a fight!
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of the novel “A Sixties’ Love Story.”