New York, September 21—The People's Climate March ambled genially down 6th Avenue in New York City Sunday afternoon. The March's slogan was "To Change Everything, We Need Everyone." Not everyone showed up, but the March did attract between 300,000 and 400,000 participants, making it by far the largest climate change mobilization in history. Prominent marchers included former Vice-President Al Gore, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and leading environmentalists including Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The marchers hope to put pressure on the global leaders who will be gathering at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York later this week. "When the people speak up and when the people march, the politicians will follow," shouted Danny Kennedy, activist and founder of the solar company Sungevity in a pep talk before the March.
At the upcoming September 23rd U.N. Summit, the 120 or so heads of state and government who are attending are supposed to make initial pledges to reduce their countries' greenhouse gas emissions in a global effort to limit global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The final firm commitments are to be nailed down at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.
In the mobilization area on Central Park West between 61st and 86th Streets, the marchers sorted themselves into various affinity groups, e.g. faith-based organizations, scientists, students, labor unions, old folks, organic food enthusiasts, renewable energy proponents, indigenous peoples, and so forth. Wandering through the throngs prior to the March's kick off, it was apparent that every progressive cause can and does find a home in the climate change movement. The chief demand of the marchers is for "climate justice," which broadly entails redistributing wealth from the countries and industries that have benefited from the consumption of fossil fuels. "System change, not climate change," is the ubiquitous slogan. The system that they think needs changing is markets and private property. "We need a system based on people, not profits," shouted one marcher as he passed me by. I overhead one marcher explaining to another, "We must have a better capitalism; better than the malignant corporate system we have now."
Among the chief capitalist villains were the Koch brothers and Monsanto. One marcher carried a sign simply urging "Arrest the Koch Brothers." A ruder placard exhorted, "Stop sucking Koch, Support Veterans for Green Job$." I did not manage to get a photo of it, but another marcher was wearing a makeshift hat that read: "Koch Brothers Love Stalin." Beats me.
Notwithstanding the fact that cultivating modern biotech crops uses less fossil fuels and releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the assembled marchers damned Monsanto. Many of the marchers oddly believe that eating locally grown organic crops that take more labor and land to produce less food will somehow help stop global warming. In any case, the executive director of the Rodale Institute, Coach Mark Smallwood, told a crowd of demonstrators that he had in his hand a white paper on the power of regenerative agriculture to ameliorate climate change. In October, Smallwood plans to walk all the way from Kutztown, PA to Washington, DC (163 miles) to personally deliver his white paper to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It should be acknowledged that the vegans are right that eating less meat would mean that more land could be returned to forests that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the other hand, lab-grown meat could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent relative to farmed meat.
Despite the condemnation of capitalism, it was somewhat amusing that it was thriving just a block over on Columbus Avenue where a street fair stretched for 20 blocks or so selling crepes, roasted corn, tortillas, honestly fake Murano jewelry, cell phone accessories, rugs, Kashmiri fabrics, lemonade and smoothies, baskets, and an extensive farmers market. Children could be diverted by play in all sorts of bouncy castles, slides, and climbing walls.
An overflowing garbage bin on Central Park West indicated that some marchers were not so averse to commerce as to forego quaffing designer coffees before setting off to march against capitalism.
In the afternoon, I happened to be standing by a man holding a sign declaring, "Overpopulation Is Not A Myth." This provoked some marchers to come over to suggest to him that he was blaming the poor for their poverty. He responded that they were not the problem; rich Americans are the problem. Another guy, who was clearly not a marcher, approached to contend that Malthus had been proven wrong. The stalwart furiously responded that Malthus would be proved right and that the end was nigh.
As it happens, Science just published an article last week arguing that earlier projections that world population would peak sometime toward the middle of this century are wrong. Why? Mostly because nearly all of the projected increase—4 billion people—will happen in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the forecast that world population will reach 11 billion by the end of this century basically assumes that Africa will remain an economic and political hellhole for the remainder of the century. That prospect seems unlikely.
Fracking aggravated a lot of the demonstrators. All kinds of artful placards alluded to the other f-word as a way of indicating their displeasure. Many asserted that fracking taints drinking water. Yet, just last week a couple of new studies found that fracking as a technique to produce natural gas does not contaminate groundwater. And never mind that burning natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide that burning coal does.
Many marchers insist on banning another low-carbon energy source—nuclear power. In particular, some demand that the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River be closed down. This particular petition is just perverse since nuclear power is a big part of why New Yorkers emit annually on average about 8 tons of carbon dioxide per person, well below the U.S. average of 17 tons per capita.
No less an environmentalist than climatologist James Hansen and his colleagues have declared, "While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power." The climate activists parading down 6th Avenue should bear in mind that Hansen is the climatologist who testified before Congress back in 1988 that climate change had already begun.
Finally, there is one placard with which I wholeheartedly agreed, "Enough, For All, Forever." Sadly, many of the marchers oppose the only system that has ever enabled hundreds of millions of people to rise above humanity's natural state of abject poverty.
See also Reason TV's "What We Saw at the People's Climate March" below: