Silence spread across thousands of people. Hands rose in the air in unspoken agreement. Sirens rang in the distance, but the people remained quiet.
Suddenly, a grumble began in the far distance. A wave of sound started on 59th street, rolling across 30 blocks like a tsunami wave, growing to a screeching siren of alarm, an undeniable call to action. The People’s Climate March had arrived in New York City.
I am often mistaken for an idealist, probably because I am at the tender age of 22 and recently graduated from a liberal arts college in Vermont. But have no fear; I am as cynical as anybody who’s been following the travails of clean energy and climate. Born and (mostly) raised in Greece—home to massive government failure—I have no mistaken notions that the government will solve our problems. Yet today I am inspired and convinced that not all is lost in the climate-change battle.
On September 21, 2014, hundreds of thousands of citizens throughout the world—including me—marched in their respective cities demanding climate justice. New York City alone saw more than 400,000 people peacefully protesting through the West Side of Manhattan, calling for new policies ranging from carbon taxing to better regulations for clean water and air. The march began with a moment of silence, which was broken by a unified cry alerting the world and global leaders that climate change is here.
While it was jaw-dropping that so many people could be silent without a universal signal, what was most inspiring was the group of people who stood on that street. Demographics included the expected environmentalists, students and indigenous peoples. The march was also joined by a number of political leaders, from American politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Al Gore to international figures such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
The most interesting group at the march, however, was children. Now it’s admittedly likely that in most cases parents dragged their children to the march, but the power of seeing children as young as four holding signs stating, “it’s my future too” was undeniable, and reflected that the new generation is being brought up aware of climate change in all aspects of their lives. Concepts such as recycling and water conservation are embedded into their heads along with the ABCs. This mindset is going to be crucial in order to sustain the fight against climate change because it will eliminate many of the obstacles we face today, such as changing behavior.
Perceptions of climate change are already changing, and governments are starting to move on the issue. In an unprecedented move, China recently pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. China has thus far refrained from committing to reduce emissions until the U.S. acted unilaterally; wide-scale global pressure, as well as recent EPA rules (and resultant pressure from President Obama), likely helped pave the way for this landmark shift.
Al Gore’s powerful article in Rolling Stone clearly delineates the ways in which the clean energy market is growing to dominate the electricity generation industry and how nations are acknowledging the catastrophic effects of climate change and beginning to respond with carbon emission reduction targets. While I urge you to read his article to get a clear overview of how the business and political arenas are changing for the better, what’s missing is an understanding of how individuals are changing.
Convenience and habit are two of the hardest factors to fight against, according to Mackenzie-Mohr, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior: Community-Based Social Marketing. People are used to the convenience of taking their car everywhere, of blasting the air conditioning in the summer and turning up the heat in the winter. The latest figures on emissions show that US homes are producing 16.73% more carbon dioxide than two years ago. Implementing policies to target factories and power plants addresses part of the problem, but it doesn’t target individual behavior.
Perhaps that is why the climate march felt different. It brought together every generation, from the young child on her parent’s shoulders to the elderly woman participating in a pedicab because she was unable to walk. The union of generations, of socioeconomic classes, of powerful players and the most innocent players yet, is reason for hope.
Policies are changing, the markets are changing, and maybe we are too.
Written by Eleni Polychroniadou
Originally posted on the Antenna Group blog: http://www.antennagroup.com/the-changing-climate-for-climate-change/#sthash.bdGfE5Sp.dpuf