People’s Climate March Comes To Edmonton

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UN Climate Summit 2014 is scheduled to start tomorrow in New York City. The Summit is intended as “a public platform for leaders at the highest level – all UN Member States, as well as finance, business, civil society and local leaders from public and private sectors – to catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.” Hmm… We’ll see how that goes.

I honour and applaud the intent of these summits, but so far they have let us down. Copenhagen recognized the 2-degree imperative, but did nothing to implement policy change reflecting that imperative. Subsequent conferences and summits have yielded tepid results. Last year’s UN Climate Conference, held in Warsaw, was most-noteworthy for its walkouts, first by the G77 and China, then by a number of NGOs: WWF, Oxfam, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the International Trade Union Confederation. There will be no agreements made at this week’s summit. That’s not its purpose, and with Russia’s, China’s, India’s and — yes — Canada’s leaders not even making the effort to show, what can be accomplished? More awareness, more discussion, more exposure of the problem — I suppose — but, I remain skeptical. I hope this summit will galvanize change, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t.

There is something different about this summit though, and that’s the march that led up to it. The People’s Climate March was held around the world on Sunday. At least 310,000 people marched through the streets of New York City. They held banners: “Communities for Just Transition,” “National Black Environmental Justice Network,” and “Climate Change Is a Healthcare Crisis!” They filled block after block of Midtown Manhattan, and they made headlines. It was the largest Climate March in history. I was thrilled — and surprised — at the number of people who took part in the NYC march and the others across the globe, but I was far more surprised at the turnout in Edmonton.

I’ve become accustomed to seeing the same faces at these events. They are like old friends. Their numbers expand for events that champion politically comfortable issues, like the March Against Monsanto this spring, but come to a rally protesting an oil sand expansion, and there are crickets — and the outliers. But yesterday was different.

The usual suspects were all hanging out in Churchill Square by 2:30, but with them were hundreds of others. People I had never seen at any march. People concerned for the future of their home — our planet.

photo I don’t know how many people attended Edmonton’s march. I heard estimates ranging from 500–1000. We marched from Churchill Square to the Alberta Legislature. We held signs and banners too: “Ecology Rules,” “Westwood Unitarians for Social Justice,” and “Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities.” There was chanting and speeches, but people also waded in the pool outside the legislature. People played with their dogs and their children ran on the grass. People felt the seriousness of the message, but it was embraced in the spirit of community. I left the legislature grounds feeling a sense that the world was changing. The people at the protest weren’t just the outliers, the early adopters. These were regular folks. These were people who recognized that we must make changes to how we live our lives, how we elect our officials and how we see the world. If we wish to leave a world that is habitable and rich in life for future generations, we must embrace change.

On Sunday there were 2700 People’s Climate events in 161 countries throughout the world. People know that we must act against Climate Change. Without the help of most of the world’s leaders, people are making their voices heard. They are shouting in a single voice: We must stop Climate Change — NOW.  This was truly a global event — a march heard round the world.

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