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On the Road to the People’s Climate March

We’re still marching in the streets

With little victories and big defeats

–Joan Baez, “To Bobby”

Baez wrote those lyrics to her old boyfriend Bob Dylan more than 40 years ago. And sadly, they’re still true today.

The climate change movement certainly knows about little victories and big defeats.

There have been a few little victories – such as the growing movement to divest out of fossil fuel companies; nations like Germany moving to rely on clean energy; and a Pres. Obama who finally takes real steps to put the nation on a greener course.

But in nature, there have been many more big defeats.

The latest draft of the U.N. climate assessment is the most disturbing yet, for example. It warns that if we continue on our present course, we will face “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” It confirms that climate change will flood our coastlines, and that it is already causing food crises and extreme weather around the globe.

And if you care about the birds and the bees, well, bee colonies are in collapse (though not just due to climate change), and the National Audubon Society announced this week that global warming will harm fully half of the continent’s avian species.

Moreover, while Pres. Obama has shown a willingness to take some steps to curb climate change, they have been timid steps. Even worse, he is further constrained by a Congress that is captive to oil, coal and gas interests.

Abroad, China keeps burning more and more climate-destroying coal. (Much of China’s climate pollution, though, is the result of manufacturing to meet demands from us westerners for goods made in China — lest you think the blame lies solely with the Chinese).

So what has the climate movement decided to do in the face of these big defeats?

This decentralized movement is wisely now determined to show some centralized power – beginning Sunday, Sept. 21 in New York City with the massive People’s Climate March.

The event marks the culmination of a new strategy in desperate times.

When Bill McKibben and a band of Middlebury College grads decided to form 350.org – now the world’s leading organization to fight climate change — they had no choice but to take a decentralized approach. The group was small, after all, and the problem it formed to fight was literally everywhere.

The first few years of its public actions were local, organized through the Internet to involve people in their own communities.

Involve them it did, in thousands of actions around the world. They ranged from gatherings of people in big European cities and tiny Afghan villages, to an event in Middlebury drawing so many people onto the pedestrian bridge that the organizers were afraid the weight of the crowd would collapse the bridge. (It didn’t.)

The 350.org group took its name from the amount of carbon we can have in the earth’s atmosphere and still sustain the civilization we now have – 350 parts per million, max

So where are we now? 400 parts per million. And rising.

Still feeling OK about climate change?

Many of the group’s earlier actions were held to raise awareness of the number 350. On one of those days, for example, I stood outside the co-op and got 350 donations of canned goods for the county food shelf. A group of local kayakers even tried to make 350 trips over the Middlebury falls.

Recently the climate movement has showed its growing strength through larger rallies. Eighteen months ago, about 40,000 of us gathered on a bitterly cold day in Washington, D.C., for the biggest-ever climate demonstration.

But that event, while impressively large, was just a warmup for what’s to come.

This time around, 350.org has marshalled its forces — and those of every major environmental group in the country — to show its power to world leaders in one place.

When climate talks open at the United Nations next week, it will be on the heels of the People’s Climate March, which stands to be the largest-ever demonstration about climate change. Doing our state’s small part, there will be more than a thousand Vermonters are heading to New York City for the event.

Ahead of the U.N. climate talks, we’ll be in New York next weekend to call on the world’s leaders to take substantive, immediate steps to put the planet on a cooler course.

The People’s Climate March will fill the streets of Manhattan with thousands of people — perhaps as many as 100,000 – to kick off a week focused on climate change. We’ll be demanding that every nation commit to policies that curb the use of fossil fuels, which are proven to be making the climate unpredictable and to endanger our food supplies and ways of life.

We’ll be back marching in the streets. And this time — as the climate crisis grows more serious by the day — we won’t settle for little victories and big defeats.

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