Calling that the future and their lives depend on abandoning fossil fuels, tens of thousands of demonstrators on Sunday opened a week in which world leaders will once again try to curb climate change, caused primarily by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
But protesters warn it won’t be enough. And they directed their anger directly at US President Joe Biden, whom they urged to stop approving new oil and gas projects, let existing ones expire and declare a climate emergency with greater executive powers.
“We have the power of the people, the power it takes to win this election,” said Emma Buretta, 17, of Brooklyn, a member of the youth protest group Fridays for Future. “If you want to win in 2024, if you don’t want the blood of my generation on your hands, then end fossil fuels.”
Politicians such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actors Susan Sarandon, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Kyra Sedgewick and Kevin Bacon took part in the March to End Fossil Fuels. But the real action on Broadway was when protesters filled the street, advocating for a better, but not so hot, future. It was the start of Climate Week in New York, where leaders from business, politics and the arts come together to try to save the planet, and which will be reinforced by the new special United Nations summit on Wednesday.
Many of the leaders of the countries that cause the most carbon pollution will not attend. And they will not speak at the summit organized by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, so only countries that promise new concrete measures will have their say.
Organizers estimate 75,000 people took part in Sunday’s march.
“There are people in the streets all over the world demanding that what is killing us stop,” Ocasio-Cortez told a cheering crowd. “We need to send a message that some of us will be living on this planet in 30, 40, 50 years. And we don’t take no for an answer.”
This protest was much more focused on fossil fuels and industry than previous marches. Sunday’s event drew a large crowd, 15% of whom were attending for the first time, and was overwhelmingly female, said American University sociologist Dana Fisher, who studies environmental movements and observed marchers.
President Joe Biden reiterated that “the United States must act and everyone must act” in the fight against climate change, emphasizing that “if you can finance coal in developing countries, there is no reason not to finance green energy there.”
Of the people Fisher spoke to, 86% had recently experienced extreme heat; 21% are floods and 18% are severe droughts, he commented. Most reported feeling sad and angry. Earth just experienced its hottest summer on record.
Among those in attendance was Athena Wilson, 8, of Boca Raton, Florida. She and her mother Maleah flew from Florida to attend Sunday’s protest.
“Because we care about our planet,” Athena commented. “I really want the earth to be better.”
People in the south of the country, particularly where the oil industry is based, and in the global south “didn’t feel heard,” said Alexandria Gordon, 23, originally from Houston. “That’s annoying”.
Protest organizers stressed how disappointed they were that Biden, whom many of them supported in 2020, had pushed oil and fossil fuel extraction.
“President Biden, our lives depend on the actions you take today,” said Louisiana environmental activist Sharon Lavigne. “If you don’t give up fossil fuels, our blood will be on your hands.”
According to calculations by environmental activists, almost a third of the oil and gas production planned worldwide by 2050 corresponds to American interests. Over the past 100 years, the United States has emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country, although China now emits more carbon pollution annually.