The book This Changes Everything is not about the 2016 election. It’s a book about climate change by author, activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein who timed its release for the historic People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. An estimated 400,000 people marched through the streets of Manhattan in one of the 2646 actions taking place in 162 countries that weekend.
At 12:58 p.m., the marchers observed two minutes of silence in honor of the victims of climate change. The crowd was so large that many of us were still waiting to move. A wave of silence washed over blocks and blocks of people jamming Central Park West in what was one of the more powerful moments of the day. The other was the “sounding of the alarm” that that broke the silence when church bells and at least 32 marching bands across the city sounded off at 1 p.m. while marchers carrying noisemakers added to the cacophony. It was a scene repeated in cities across the globe.
A few weeks later, I asked an audience at Albright College how many of them had heard of the climate march. The theater was filled with students who’d been assigned to attend the screening and panel discussion I’d been asked to join. One of the few members of the public, a middle-aged woman, raised her hand. That was it. One person in an auditorium full of people in a city three hours away from Manhattan had heard of the march.
Climate change is one of those issues that has struggled to make its way into the public consciousness and not just because of the climate deniers, many of whom are paid handsomely to keep the flicker of doubt alive. Climate scientists spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what has kept the public from becoming more engaged.
Bill McKibben struck a chord with his piece in Rolling Stone in 2012 called "Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math" wherein he summed up the issues using three numbers - 2 degrees Celsius, 565 gigatons, and 2795 gigatons. In order to keep from raising the planet’s temperature 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, we can only afford to use 565 gigatons of fossil fuels, but the industry already has 2795 gigatons in reserve, 5 times more than we dare use.
Efforts like McKibben’s and Klein’s have helped grow the climate movement, to be sure, but not in the numbers you’d expect to see when people become aware of a problem that poses the greatest-ever threat to our survival as a species.
We could probably do without the mellifluent NPR voices of climate scientists who provide no verbal cues that they’re talking about a calamity that is already unfolding. It wouldn’t hurt for big green organizations to stop taking donations from fossil fuel companies or jockeying for seats at the table with weak or compromised political leaders. But the apparent lack of urgency may not be the culprit of what appears to be mass indifference.
In fact, plenty of people are plenty worried about climate change. Sure, there will always be those who don’t pay attention to much of anything and others who will remain susceptible to climate deniers’ dissembling. But for the many whose level of concern doesn’t always translate into action, the problem could be that it’s simply too much to contemplate.
A thorough reading of Klein may be what’s needed. This Changes Everything points to the opportunities in all of the climate chaos. Klein’s thesis is that system change is the only way to address climate change. We are coming to the end of our unsustainable course. Circumstances are forcing us to change and that’s a good thing. We can find the solutions everywhere and we all have something to contribute.
For those of us fighting to ban climate-killing fracking and other fossil fuel development, the connection to climate is a bright line. It may be harder for the local planning commission working on a comprehensive plan that makes the community more pedestrian-friendly or the backyard gardener who transitions to all native plants or the employer who decides to let people work from home or the political activist who fights the Trump agenda to see their connections as clearly, but the connections are there and they’re important.
If you’ve found your connection, great! If you haven’t, keep looking. As the banner spanning Central Park West said that day back in 2014, “To change everything, it takes everyone.”
posted by Karen Feridun