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Is Change Up to the Climate?

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Human cause? Cycles? Whatever. Isn’t it time to do something?

I would love to see global action to mitigate the predicted effects of warming, and it seemed like many promising things were happening around the UN summit on climate change Tuesday. I even imagined a tipping point as a result of the following developments:

  1. Some 300,000+ people marched in New York City on September 22 in support of action on climate change.
  2. The Rockefeller family, which had made a fortune from Standard Oil, announced that it would be joining about 180 other institutions in divesting fossil fuel assets and investing in renewables.
  3. Apple, Google, and Facebook committed to use renewables to power their data centers, which consume huge amounts of electricity.
  4. The World Resources Institute came out with a report predicting that a carbon tax could actually stimulate economies, if it were used to reduce taxes on income.
  5. The New York Times and CBS News collaborated on a poll indicating that about 54% of American adults believe that human activity is causing warming.

    New York, September 22, 2014

    New York, September 22, 2014

But how significant are these developments? Let’s take the march on September 22 first. I checked on it relative to other demonstrations and discovered that the number was neither as impressive as I thought nor likely to have much effect.

For example, there were many Viet Nam War protests over the span of 20 years. The largest in Washington, D.C.,  in 1969 involved about 600,000 marchers, but the war didn’t end until 1975. The Nuclear Disarmament March in 1983 attracted about a million participants, but nuclear armament is still an issue. In 2003 protests against the Iraq War were organized in 600 cities worldwide and involved between six and ten million people, to little effect. The largest Occupy Wall Street protest in New York in 2012 attracted a maximum of 100,000 marchers and served mostly to irritate everyone with the mess they were making in parks.

The environmentally-sensitive actions of high-profile people like the Rockefellers and the CEOs like Tim Cook of Apple are encouraging, and so is recent word that portfolio managers are getting concerned that global warming is a threat to the long-term value of their investments. Nevertheless, to judge by the poll in the fifth development above, we’re not close to the tipping point. The individuals responding indicated that they were more concerned about other things than climate–like foreign policy, poverty, education, etc.

But back to the marches. If you look at history, the one march that seemed to lead to enormous change was the Millennium March in Washington, D.C., in 2000. Estimates of attendance range from 200,000 to one million dedicated to raising the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and demanding equal rights for them. Changes in laws and policies nationwide suggest that equal rights was a concept whose time was coming, but the transition took more than a decade and involved personal and passionate action at the grassroots level.

So what would it take to mobilize personal and passionate action on climate change worldwide? This is something I hope to see, because I think it would stimulate enormous innovation and ways of living that could create even wider prosperity and possibly even improve quality of life–not only for humans but also for the other creatures sharing the planet. I would like to think that movement in that direction is picking up speed, and I’m hoping to serve as a witness for transformation before I’m done as a writer.

But I just wonder: Is it up to climate  itself to turn us all toward personal and passionate action? That would be a very bad experience.  At the moment, though, it looks as though we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m one of those people who are watching daily.

2 Responses to “Is Change Up to the Climate?”

  1. David

    For an on-the-ground count, the preferred method is to enlist a team of counters and dispatch them at different points along the march route, counting how many people pass in a given increment of time, such as 30 seconds. After the march is over, the counters then add their counts accordingly, use those numbers to estimate how many people passed in the time intervals when the counters weren’t counting, and then combine counts for a final estimate. Using this method, two crowd counters calculated that about 125,000 people were present at the climate march.

  2. Barbara McCarthy

    Right on! You hit the nail on the head! BINGO! I’ve run out of phrases – thank you for an articulate, revealing, thoughtful, and stimulating article.
    I’ve been aware, interested, active in this area for some years. I am going to forward your article to Global Warming Express, a group formed by my former 3rd graders.