Ariana Nicholson is going. The Carolina Friends School senior says the People's Climate March in New York City is a chance for young people to speak truth to world leaders—who'll gather at the United Nations for a climate summit—before it's too late.
"It's time our generation had a say in our future," Nicholson says.
Brian Vaughn is going. The first-year UNC-Chapel Hill student says that curbing climate change "isn't just nice, it's life and death" for precarious and marginalized nations on the planet.
Vaughn says he was inspired by Disruption, a new film about the march and why organizers believe it will be the tipping point to positive change, with a turnout of 200,000 people or more.
"I won't lie to you, I had goose bumps watching it," Vaughn said.
The tipping point is often a term used to describe the "truly alarming consequences," as The New York Times editorial board put it, if the average global temperature rises more than the globally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees Celsius—or 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
March organizers, however, want "tipping point" to mean the number of people needed in the movement to avert disaster. For the United States, that number is 1 percent, they say, and if 3 million Americans demand that our elected leaders take the required actions, we'll turn things around. They base that figure on how many people were active a half-century ago in the civil rights movement.
I watched Disruption with a social justice group at Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. (It's available free at www.watchdisruption.com.) Karen Bearden came too. She's a long-time activist and organizer for 350.org, the international climate-change group started five years ago by writer Bill McKibben. No question, she and Joe, her husband, will be in New York.
Bearden and I have disagreed about the movement and whether it was building fast enough to meet the threat. I was skeptical. She never doubted it. Now, I hope she's right. "We've been growing, growing, growing since 2009," she said excitedly. "We are a movement, and with each step, it gets bigger."
Im optimistic about the climate-change movement even though it does not factor whatsoever in the 2014 elections. Here's why:
The science is undeniable. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the United Nations, comprises hundreds of the world's leading climate scientists and economists. Its reports are virtually unanimous—and dire. The world must reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the product of fossil fuels burned in power plants, industrial factories and motor vehicles, by 40–70 percent starting within 15 years to avoid pushing global temperatures higher than the 2 degrees Celsius target. Instead of reducing emissions, however, the world continues to generate more—the first decade of the 21st century was our worst ever.
Solutions exist. In the first quarter of 2014, Germany generated 27 percent of its electricity from renewable power sources, mainly solar. The Germans are moving swiftly toward a national goal of 50 percent renewables; on a Sunday in May, they hit a record level of 74 percent. In other words, it can be done.
The solutions will save money. The petroleum and coal industries claim fossil-fuel generation is cheaper than solar, wind and other alternatives. That's not true if all the costs are calculated. Solar and wind are free once facilities are in place. Compare that with the environmental damage caused by mountaintop removal (coal), fracking (natural gas) and deep-water oil drilling (oil). And as fossil-fuel emissions result in more frequent catastrophic weather—Hurricane Sandy in the U.S., Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year. The escalating costs are landing on the public, not the industry.
2016 is the year. The U.N. climate summit, which begins Sept. 23, will be followed by a global conference in Paris in 2015 where 190 nations will try to hammer out a climate-change treaty. The U.S., previously obstructionist, will be a constructive force this time for two reasons: 1) President Obama, having achieved health-care reform, will be looking forward to the next big issue; 2) Candidates for president in 2016 will be forced by the climate-change movement and the Paris conference to say what they'll do to save the planet, if elected.
The good news is, saving the planet will create jobs in the United States and around the world as we shift from life-threatening fossil generation to clean renewable sources.
It will also change politics fundamentally as the petroleum, coal and electric-utility industries cede power to community groups and individuals generating power for themselves using rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, local grids and cars with electric batteries.
Imagine that, we get more jobs, a cleaner planet and cleaner elections. Even in American politics, that's a hard combination to deny. In fact, it's a winning platform, Hillary.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Time's Up."