In an unusual, historical moment this past Sunday. 311,000 people convened in New York City at the world’s largest climate march. They marched down Central Park West, through Times Square and onto 34th Street carrying posters, drums, horns, hula-hoops and hopes that the human race can overcome the adversities foreseen with imminent climate change.
The march, which had partner demonstrations around the world, was in preparation for this Tuesday’s Climate Summit at the United Nations. Optimistically titled “Catalyzing Action,” the summit initiates a year-long discussion among world leaders to finally come to global agreements on just how to reduce aggregate greenhouse gas emissions.
It was an amazing spectacle representing a vast diversity of people and interests. Demonstrators came from every age, class and ethnicity. They came alone, with their families, with their schools and with their organizations. They voiced various causes, from organic and vegan advocacy to labor union rights and anti-fracking. There were rain forest preservationists, water conservationists and political collaborationists. There were so many people that organizers actually had to ask marchers to disperse before completing the entire route.
The march was no small occurrence. Climate change has stirred alarm and confusion among people around the world. On the geologic timescale, climate change is so significant that many jump to the conclusion that it isn’t a result of our species’ own doing. Over the human life span, the impacts of climate change can be so abstract that individual actions are seemingly negligible.
The march is indicative of a shift; the issue is rising to the forefront of global politics after remaining at a standstill.
The greatest obstacle to climate change is its apparent conflict with our economy. If we cap carbon emissions, some argue that development would no longer be possible. We’ve always been told that development means more jobs and higher standards of living. Yet, a planet with a new climate means chaos: uncurbed pollution, rising seas, enabled diseases, species extinctions and the disappearance of numerous ecosystems. What will the economy look like when the global capital, that place where 311,000 people marched, sits under water?
It’s time to rethink the meaning of prosperity. We need to envision a world where people’s work is reflected in clean air and water, biodiversity, walkable cities and public health. We need to consider the impacts of the decisions we make, from the food we eat to the products we buy. We need to account for everyone and everything because as science has shown us, everything is fundamentally intertwined. Our greatest insights about life on Earth reveal the significance of cooperation, not competition, in driving successful changes.
This is an opportunity to reinvent everything. We cannot rely on a few self-important rich guys to make decisions for us. Change starts here and now. It starts with the people who chose to march and the people they reached with their powerful message. It starts with awareness that you, a conscious anomaly in a vast and vacuous universe, can make a difference. It starts with the recognition that sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it will solve nothing.