Defining the Contours of our Century


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President Obama addressed the UN summit leaders today, imploring each to do their part in combating global climate change. “Nobody gets a pass… We have a responsibility to lead,” he stated before 120 heads of state.

Today’s Climate Summit was not a meeting to bind treaties or draft legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Instead it was an opportunity for world leaders to familiarize themselves with the impending danger of climate change and to exchange ideas in advance of next year’s UN Climate Change Conference to take place in Paris. The hope is that today’s gathering will motivate dignitaries to take action in their own countries.

Obama outlined a plan to meet carbon-cutting goals within the next six years and urged the international community to join the United States in these efforts. He also announced measures that would help developing countries to strengthen their resilience to climate change, noting that “no nation is immune” to the deadly weather events we have seen in the last several years.

It may not be easy to garner political will in favor of fighting climate change; bizarrely, the topic is still controversial in the U.S. Many political leaders seem to scoff in the face of science, despite the fact that the scientific community concedes that climate change is human-driven. Bill McKibben, founder of and one of the leading organizers of the People’s Climate March, was disappointed that Obama didn’t promise enough: “If the President really wants collective ambition,” he said in a statement following the summit, “he’s got to show a little more can-do spirit from the world’s leading economy… Today’s boasts about his climate efforts ring hollow in the face of America passing Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil and gas producer.”

While McKibben makes a good point, this global conversation needs to start somewhere, and it’s starting here, on American soil. I am proud of that. Our leaders have a role to play, but so do we, as citizens of America and of the planet. It’s important that we act. The People’s Climate March was a solid first step, but we need to carry that momentum with us to the polls. Register to vote, and then vote – for leaders who will take action to make positive changes rather than those who will be bought out by corporations with ties to Big Oil.

In the President’s own words, climate change will “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other” issue. I agree, and we have no time to lose.


“The Largest Climate March in History”

Demonstrators gather in front of the Morris Theater in downtown South Bend, Indiana

Demonstrators gather in front of the Morris Theater in downtown South Bend, Indiana.

Two weeks ago, I went to a screening of the film Disruption at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. The compelling film highlighted the devastation we’ve seen around the world that has resulted directly from climate change. It made me angry at times, tearful at times, and then it gave me hope. (To see what all the hype was about, watch the entire film here.) It was a call to action to attend yesterday’s march in New York, in advance of the UN’s summit on the climate crisis (the summit meets tomorrow). I had badly wanted to go, but because of work and the expense of making a last minute trip, I opted to stay here and attend a rally locally in solidarity with the marchers in New York and worldwide (there were more than 2,600 events in more than 150 countries!)

There were about 50 of us in downtown South Bend yesterday – not a bad turnout for this highly conservative area. But in New York City, the final count of demonstrators totaled 400,000, surpassing expected numbers by some 300,000 people! That number included former Vice President Al Gore, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo. These and more marched alongside people of all faiths and nationalities in an effort to demonstrate the numerous reasons to take action against human-driven climate change. They’re calling it the largest Climate March in history to date.

Demonstrators wave the American flag, the UN flag, and a flag depicting Earth.

Demonstrators wave the American flag, the UN flag, and a flag depicting Earth.

At the end of our rally in South Bend, participants were asked to write on a prayer flag “what I don’t want to lose to climate change”. Naturally, I wrote “food” on my flag. But I’m reminded that our food system is not only threatened by planetary warming – it’s also a leading cause of climate change. In the words of food journalist James McWilliams: “Producing over 300 million tons of meat a year arguably represents the most destructive misallocation of natural resources in all human history, one that contributes disproportionately to the core issues that The People’s Climate March will address: global warming, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.” In other words, if you care about the environment, you can’t ignore animal agriculture. You have a choice: educate yourself and make a change, or remain culpable in the destruction of the only home we know. (Read the rest of McWilliams’ article here.)

Here’s hoping the United Nations Summit results in some tangible strategies for mitigating climate change around the globe. Stay tuned.

A small, but meaningful gathering of organizers and demonstrators.

A small, but meaningful gathering of organizers and demonstrators.