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Fear This, Congress: The People’s Climate March

Activists gather for the historic People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. (Photo: Project Survival Media)

The People’s Climate March has permanently changed national and international perception and proven that Americans care passionately about the climate issue. The diverse sea of black, brown and white people who flooded the streets of New York sent the message that climate change is a political issue for all Americans, with signs reading, “Vote Climate.” A young woman of East Indian descent carried a hand-painted, blue and green sign that said, “Change Politics, Not the Climate.”

The crowd was loud with drumming, singing and chanting. A favorite moment came when an eerie hush suddenly descended. I ducked and looked skyward, thinking something must be wrong. You could hear a cheer rise-up from miles away and cascade through the crowd. When the wave hit our section it got so loud that I’m certain the world leaders, gathered for the global summit on climate change, could hear us roar.

One young man carried a blue sign with orange and white letters proclaiming, “I. AM. U.N. Impressed.” World leaders undoubtedly noticed the biggest climate march in history as the massive crowd made its way past their hotels. I’ve attended marches where crowds were estimated at 1,000,000. Maybe it was the mega-watt energy emanating from hundreds of thousands of people, but the People’s Climate March in New York City felt bigger. The people have awakened and are demanding action on climate change. They will not be denied.

U.S. politicians take note. Congress generally operates on two basic principles: fear and greed. U.S. Congressional leaders chase the almighty dollar to pump-up their campaign coffers, that’s the greed part. But they can’t get the vote if they don’t follow the will of the people, that’s the fear part. Yesterday’s March indicates that it’s time for politicians to wake-up and follow the people on the issue of climate change or fear for their election prospects.

Folks dressed as scientists in white lab coats stood beside a giant chalk board that read, “The “Debate” is Over, The Facts are In. The Evidence is Clear. Science Stands for Climate Action.” The graph on the chalkboard showed the CO2 levels on a straight, upward trajectory. Another man in a white, doctor’s coat carried a sign saying, “Climate Change is a Health Crisis.” Another sign said, “Scientists Demand Climate Action.”

The city pulsed with the energy of new day for climate change, generated by men, women, students, children and elderly people of every color and creed. A turban-clad man carried a sign that said, “Sikhs 4 Climate Justice.” Aerial shots of the crowd showed streets jammed with citizens from around the country, demanding action.

A brass band from New Orleans played, “When the Saints Come Marching In.” One man in costume carried a sign that read, “Bee the Solution,” referring to the declining pollinator’s populations. Bright blue-green sword fish were lettered with, “Disrupt Fossil Fuels.” Several giant parachutes with messages about getting off fossil fuels were hurled skyward as children giggled and tried to grab the chutes as they ran underneath. Student groups carried signs, which demanded divestment from fossil fuels. Signs with pictures of dinosaurs read, “Stop Burning Fossils.”

Those against nuclear power were out in force and held one banner saying, “Still Unsafe After all These Years.” Another black sign with red letters said, “Shut Them All Down,” referring to our aging nuclear power plants. Those opposed to the Tar Sands carried a yellow banner whose red flames licked the statement, “Stop Tar Sands.” Other blue signs, lettered in white read, “Don’t Frack U.S.” Hundreds demanded renewable energy like wind and solar power.

According to the Guardian, “The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that June, July, and August were the hottest months on record and that 2014 was on course to break the record for hottest year, which was set in 2010.”

Myself and others carried signs reading, “Tax Carbon.” Federal climate legislation is essential to slow climate change and will result in part from hitting the streets, as so many did in New York. A carbon tax is a tax on fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - intended to dramatically reduce or eliminate the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are driving climate change. Revenue from a carbon tax could aid in the switch from fossil fuels to clean, renewable, non-nuclear energy and slow climate change.

Such a tax would require setting an ambitious, concrete goal for emission reductions that is adequate to slow climate change. The price per ton of carbon or equivalent greenhouse gases would have to reflect the real cost of emissions, including damages that arise from catastrophic climate change, to be paid by the polluter. All of this would need to be done on a timeline that would have a real impact.

Carbon tax legislation should be applied broadly, to as many fossil fuel polluters as possible, to ensure the best chance of reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas pollution. It should not fund bio-fuels or deforestation in any way. Legislation should ensure that the polluter pays and the cost is not passed on to the taxpayer.

Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have had a carbon tax for decades. Many other countries like the U.K., Switzerland and Japan have implemented a carbon tax in the new millennium as climate change is becoming more serious. Some American cities like Boulder, Colorado have a carbon tax. The experience with carbon taxes refutes the falsehood that such taxes hurt economies.

A visibly pregnant, black woman in the People’s Climate March carried a hand-lettered sign over her baby bump, which read, “We are Burning our Kid’s Inheritance.” If that is to change, we will have to go beyond a few municipalities and tackle the challenges of excess greenhouse gas emissions with a federal carbon tax, or end-up with an ineffective patchwork of conflicting laws across the country.

As it stands today, especially with Republican control of the U.S. House, it would be nearly impossible to pass a federal carbon tax. No federal climate legislation has ever become law in the U.S, even at a time when scientists agree that we are facing an emergency situation with climate change. We will have to elect the people to do it, by making it an issue every time we vote and letting politicians know, “We Vote Climate.” Americans do “Give A Shit,” as one sign insisted we should. And as another sign said, “The Time for Action is Now.”

Karyn Strickler

Karyn Strickler is a political scientist, grassroots organizer and writer. She is the founder and president of Vote Climate U.S. PAC, working to elect candidates to get off fossil fuels and put a price on carbon. Karyn is the former producer and host of Climate Challenge on MMCTV. You can contact her at

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