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Climate fight must expand beyond usual suspects

Protesters carried signs and banners during the recent People’s Climate March in New York.EPA/file 2014

The recent People’s Climate March in New York City was a remarkable show of force on many levels. It was notable for its sheer size, some 300,000 demonstrators. Also impressive, though, was the diversity of its participants, in terms not only of race but also of age, religion, and even economic status. Policy makers in the United States and elsewhere won’t take stronger action against climate change without strong public demand. The New York City demonstration highlighted where the political will must come from: the grass roots.

As the United Nations’ climate change summit convened last month, Yale professor Daniel Esty noted in The New York Times that government leaders have met numerous times to address climate change threats with little to no result. “Relying on national governments alone to deliver results is not enough, as the last two decades have shown,” he writes. Despite commitments from countries to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, those emissions keep on rising. The dire consequences are coming into view; a UN environmental panel found that global warming has brought “a higher risk of flooding and changes to crop yields and water availability.” Still, no action at the top.


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The march served as a platform to showcase the high level of climate activism brimming in local communities. From Massachusetts, hundreds of activists from nonprofits like Neighbor to Neighbor, Clean Water Action, and Fossil Free Somerville, among many others, attended Sunday’s march. From Boston alone, there were at least 22 full buses traveling to Manhattan in an effort put together by community groups like the Better Future Project/350MA and the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, which actually chartered six buses full of minority youth activists to the rally. The presence of all these groups underscored the breadth of concern that exists about climate change.

China, the US, and India are the world’s largest carbon polluters. But the two Asian countries were noticeably absent from the UN’s summit. An Indian official reportedly said last week that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions would likely keep rising for the next 30 years. To sidestep the deadlock and bring these two nations to the proverbial table, the answer may very well be to focus on the growing sentiment across the planet to take more concrete actions to reduce global warming.