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Climate Justice Movement: Moment Is Now to 'Change Everything'

Mobilizations gain steam ahead of UN summit in New York planned for September

Jon Queally

In anticipation of an upcoming climate summit of world leaders scheduled for New York City at the end of this summer, advocates of bold and transformative action to curb global emissions and avert the worst impacts of global warming are both speaking out and readying action.

This week, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN), an initiative of the United Nations that includes environmental experts, former heads of state, climate scientists and others, published an open letter to the government representatives heading to the New York summit calling on them to take urgent action on climate change in order to limit the dangers posed by warming.

The letter states, in part:

Human-induced climate change is an issue beyond politics. It transcends parties, nations, and even generations. For the first time in human history, the very health of the planet, and therefore the bases for future economic development, the end of poverty, and human wellbeing, are in the balance. If we were facing an imminent threat from beyond Earth, there is no doubt that humanity would immediately unite in common cause. The fact that the threat comes from within – indeed from ourselves – and that it develops over an extended period of time does not alter the urgency of cooperation and decisive action.

The world has agreed to limit the mean temperature increase to less than 2-degrees Centigrade (2°C). Even a 2°C increase will carry us to dangerous and unprecedented conditions not seen on Earth during the entire period of human civilization.

Signatories to the letter are asking others to sign on to their message and promise to deliver it to the UN on September 23 when the summit convenes.

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of grassroots and social justice advocacy organizations is organizing what they've dubbed the "People's Climate March" for the weekend preceding the UN summit.

"In our time, humanity again must choose, this time to save our planet from shortsightedness, greed, and apathy to avoid catastrophic climate change." —letter to world leaders

Pitched boldly as a "a weekend to bend the course of history" the march promises to be an "unprecedented climate mobilization – in size, beauty, and impact." Though spearheaded by campaigners at 350.org, the event is being organized and directed collectively by local New York-area community groups, international NGO’s, grassroots networks, churches and faith organizations, and many others.

The unifying demand of the event, say organizers, "is a world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet. In short, a world safe from the ravages of climate change."

Writing in support of the march recently at the Earth Island Journal, Eddie Bautista acknowledged that though mass rallies don't always work, this one has the potential to shake the foundations of world leadership at a crucial moment:

Scientists tell us that we’re running out of time to solve the climate crisis. And a global solution will require more than just personal actions like switching to energy efficient light bulbs, or riding a bike to work. Preventing climate catastrophe requires fast, mass action, and involvement at every level of government and civil society. Right now.

Mass mobilization is one of the best ways we know of to shock the entire system into action. Mass marches don’t always work: we weren’t able to stop the buildup to the war in Iraq. But they sometimes succeed in historic ways. Take the 1982 anti-nuclear march, which pushed a hawkish Ronald Reagan to strike a deal with Russia and start reducing nuclear warhead arsenals. Or consider the 1963 March on Washington, which helped pass the Civil Rights Act.

The organizers themselves recognize the limitations of mass action, but make the case of how this weekend fits into the larger struggle for fighting climate change on a planetary scale:

This moment will not be just about New York or the United States. Heads of state from around the world will be there, as will the attention of global media. We know that no single meeting or summit will “solve climate change” and in many ways this moment will not even really be about the summit.

We want this moment to be about us – the people who are standing up in our communities, to organise, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.

No single day, just like no single summit will be all it takes. What we are up against is far too large. So as we unite for action this September we are going to try something different as well. We are going to commit ourselves to sustained action and use this to continue strengthening our strategies and work at home.

The group released this video on Wednesday urging people from around the world to make preparations for what they argue is a historic moment to pressure the world's politicians and policy makers to finally accept the need for decisive action:

And as the letter from the UNSDSN concludes:

In our time, humanity again must choose, this time to save our planet from shortsightedness, greed, and apathy to avoid catastrophic climate change. This time too, we must organize and measure the best of our energies and skills to stay within 2°C. We call upon you, world leaders, to recognize the gravity of the situation, and to call upon all of us to rise to the occasion. We owe nothing less to ourselves, to future generations, and to Earth itself.

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