Why I didn’t go to the biggest climate march in history (but probably should have)

Even though I have largely broken away from my youthful days of protest and resistance, I regret not attending last month’s People’s Climate March, billed by its organizers as “the largest climate march in history” with more than 300,000 marchers.

Claiming that I was just too busy does not seem logical because what could be more important than saving the planet — or, more accurately — saving humanity. As John Trudell, the visionary Lakota activist/poet/musician once said, the earth will endure long after we are gone. It has been through major cataclysms for millions, if not billions, of years. The existence of fossil fuels, the main enemy of the climate movement, is a major example of this fact.

Human beings, on the other hand, may not last even if climate change were reversed. The presence of thousands of nuclear weapons makes the threat of mass extinction both real and immediate. I am not implying that the nuclear issue is more important, however, because in everyday terms it is a lot less important due to the fact that nuclear weapons do not harm anyone while sitting in their silos (putting aside for a minute the environmental damage caused by their production and storage). Climate change is wreaking havoc as we speak on small island nations, such as the Maldives, and there is no serious debate among scientists that it is producing hotter summers, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, and species endangerment throughout the world.

So, I repeat: I should have taken the five-hour bus ride to New York. Rather than make more excuses, I’ll list three things that would have made it a more desirable way to spend my weekend.

1) If the organizers explicitly connected climate change to war

The environmental movement, in my view, needs to do a better job at connecting environmental issues to violence and war. I once heard that tanks only get about 1.5 miles per gallon of gasoline, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. When the war machine is not directly destroying plant, animal, and human life, it is extracting every resource it can find from the planet in pursuit of said destruction. Oil is one of the major resources but certainly not the only one.

2) If it wasn’t the same old, same old

Even though the march was followed by a more disobedient ‘Flood Wall Street’ action, I know I am not the only one who struggles to get inspired by large marches through New York or D.C. A mass march may be one of the most recognized symbols of democracy, but if it is not part of a sustained campaign of further action, it is just that — a symbol. How many of those enthusiastic marchers will be just as enthusiastic about voting for do-nothing Democrats in November? Pardon my cynicism.

3) If the organizers had a more radical agenda 

With respect to Al Gore’s contributions to science and technology, any march that he feels comfortable participating in is probably not asking for much. I think it is naive and even counterproductive for organizations like Avaaz and 350.org to support a revolution as sweeping as the end of fossil fuels extraction (and capitalism as we know it, by extension) and act as if elites and non-elites are on the same side just because climate ultimately affects all of us. To use an appropriate analogy: while a hotter climate makes all of us sweat, those with means can afford air conditioning. And while the elites can protect themselves more easily from the worst affects of climate change, they still have a lot more to lose than the masses in economic terms, and history shows that they are unlikely to lose anything without a fight.

For a deeper critique of the organizations behind the march and their agenda, I defer to Arun Gupta’s harsh exposé. I will conclude by saying that despite these criticisms, I hope that intellectuals who are serious about radical change keep their vitriol as constructive as possible and favor action over inaction while the targets of it refrain from the sort of defensiveness that leads to conservatism and isolation. While we fight amongst ourselves, humanity burns.

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