Trócaire’s Lorna Gold reports from New York, where 310,000 people took to the streets ahead of Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit.
The 21st September was no ordinary day. I would even go so far as saying that it was one of the most extraordinary days in modern times. It was the day that the whole world woke up to global warming and the people said with one voice: we care, we want change, we want climate justice.
For sure there have been big marches before – but nothing on this scale. From Australia to Sri Lanka, from Jakarta to Nairobi, from Dublin to New York – people joined together in nearly 3000 coordinated events to say to world leaders that we demand action. On Tuesday, as the leaders gather at the UN they will have the eyes of the world on them as never before.
Never before has the full power of social media been harnessed to collectively organise diverse groups across the globe and to send one message to world leaders as one voice. It was a coming together of online and offline activism like never before.
I had the privilege of being at the New York march, which was carried off in true New Yorker style. Everyone was there: local neighbourhood groups, young families with babies, dancing polar bears, healthcare workers, rabbis, bishops, elderly people in wheelchairs, people dressed as mermaids, and thousands upon thousands of young people. The organisers estimated that 50,000 students joined the march – stretching for ten full blocks of the city. In total, around 310,000 people marched through New York.
The atmosphere was carnival like. Music, drums, dancing – reclaiming the streets of Manhattan for the people, at least for one day. The atmosphere was electric. There was a feeling of emotional release: finally, our voice is being heard. At one spine tingling point the entire 310,000 raised their hands in silence to think of those affected by climate change. You could have heard a pin drop. Then, from the back of the march, some four kilometres away, a Mexican wave roared all the way down to the front.
The slogans on the thousands of hand painted banners said it all for me: “There is no planet B” “Keep the coal in the hole” “planets do not grown on trees” “Explain to future generations – ‘it was good for the economy’”. Meantime people chanted “this is what democracy looks like” “what do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now.”
Far from being an environmental lobby issue, this was about ordinary people and their lives. People came to the march for many reasons. For many it is about the future their children will inherit. The number of grandparents and young families bearing the heat and humidity to be there was striking. For some it was about their own homes which are at risk of flooding. For others it was about a moral purpose – saving the world.
People want radical change. No matter why they came, they can see the injustice of climate change around them. They came because they want the government to listen to the people and not to be beholden to the oil industry or other corporate forces. A common theme through the march was divestment from fossils fuels and other destructive industries such as fracking.
One of the best slogans at the march showed the World Wildlife Fund panda shouting “Save the Humans.” This summed up the change for me. People have finally realised that climate change is not just about polar bears. It is far more important than that. It is about our planet, our future as a species. It is about people and justice.
I left the march today with my heart full of hope. Change is most definitely in the air. The tipping point is near. The people have spoken up. World leaders now need to listen and make the change that is needed. They need to commit to divesting from fossil fuels, and commit to binding emissions targets. They need to put money on the table to help the poorest countries adapt.
One thing is absolutely certain – this mass movement is not going to stay quiet. It has taken some time, but like generations before them that ended apartheid and slavery, the people have finally found their voice. It will only get louder.
September 21 is set to be the largest public mobilisation in history against climate change. Trócaire’s Emmet Sheerin writes about the reason for this, and calls on people here in Ireland to take part in the worldwide event.
On September 21, in towns, villages and cities across the world, people will be gathering to show that they care about climate change – that they demand a fair and adequate response to this global problem.
The international day of action is being held just 48 hours before world leaders, including our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny, meet in New York for a summit on climate change. The summit is being hosted by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and will be one of the most high-profile, global moments focused on climate change in years. It is hoped that the summit can generate the much needed political will and momentum towards agreeing a universal binding agreement on climate change in 2015.
In reality, however, without significant public pressure, it is highly unlikely that world leaders will take the necessary measures to adequately tackle climate change. The international day of action is therefore an opportunity to put pressure on world leaders to step up to the mark. It is a chance for Irish people to send a strong message to the Taoiseach demanding action on climate change, not simply words.
As part of the run up to the event, Trócaire went along to Electric Picnic, armed with a few trad musicians and a giant heart. We asked people to write on the giant heart the thing they love and want to protect against climate change. Take a look at the video below to see what people care about.
Make your voice heard and join us for the People’s Climate Picnic, Sunday September 21
Dublin: The Bandstand, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, 12-2pm
Belfast: The lawn outside the Whitla Hall at Queen's University Belfast, 1pm-3pm
Now is the time for us all to act on climate change for the love of everything we hold dear!
- Find out more about volunteering with Trócaire
- Download our activist toolkit for tips on campaigning on global justice issues this Lent
- Demand a strong climate law for Ireland
Read more about Trócaire's water projects in Ethiopia
- How water wells defeat hunger in Ethiopia
- From Cork to Bullee Dheela: How your donations make a difference
There are lots of easy changes we can all make in our daily lives to make them more sustainable and play a part in combating climate change.
Meet Lydia McCarthy, Education Officer, Trócaire.
“Why does the fruit and veg that we buy in the shops need to be wrapped in plastic? When I do my weekly food shop, I always reach for the fruit and vegetables that are loose and not wrapped in plastic. And, when I get home and cook the veg, all of the peelings go into my compost bin at the bottom of my garden. Is it worth it? Well I have only put a bin out for the rubbish lorry to collect once in the last five months. Better for the environment and better for the pocket! And I’ll also have compost to spread on my vegetable beds in the back garden.
I love my coffee! I am on the road a lot with my job and make frequent stops in petrol stations for a cuppa. I have my reusable cup and always put my coffee in this. I also know which petrol stations on the motorways sell fair trade coffee and will only buy from these. I have a reusable bottle for the road too so that I am not buying bottled water. Again it’s better for the environment and better for the pocket!”
Visit our Up to Us page for tips on the changes you can make in your day-to-day life to live more sustainably and play a part in combating climate change.
Captions (l to r): Reusable water bottle. Lydia McCarthy, Education Officer, Trócaire.
Student Tom Smith tells us about a committed new movement for a totally sustainable lifestyle in Galway.
“About seven months ago I finally made the move from a fairly conventional life as a city-based student, to helping some friends set up a sustainable, permaculture-based small-holding in rural Galway called An Teach Saor (The Free House).
For now I live with two friends, though this number will probably rise soon, including Mark Boyle, better known as the ‘Moneyless Man’, who lived without money for a couple of years to highlight the disconnect our financial system creates between us and the things we buy.
So far we've planted close to 1000 trees, established the start of a forest garden and a herb bed, reclaimed two polytunnels from their former overgrown state, set up natural beehives and planted a nut orchard. We've also done other things like setting up mushroom logs for producing oyster and shiitake mushrooms, constructed a rainwater catchment system, and made a wormery out of an old bathtub.”
Captions (l to r): Galway student, Tom Smith. Reclaimed polytunnel, and its former overgrown state.
“One of the more symbolically important things we've done is to replace our flush toilets with compost toilets, which stops the madness of purifying and chlorinating water just to flush it away, and instead allows us to close the nutrient loop on our own site. Sawdust from a local sawmill prevents there being any smells! Sustainable cultures have been doing this for millennia, and there's no reason why we can't follow suit.
Most of all though, we're creating a life which is our own, utterly fulfilling, fun and surrounded by friends and loved ones. We're now launching a crowdfunding campaign to convert an old pig shed into an eco-learning centre, free community space, home-brew pub and accommodation centre called 'The Happy Pig'.”
While Tom’s commitment to sustainable living is above and beyond what the vast majority of us might contemplate, there are still lots and lots of easy changes we can all make in your daily lives to make them that bit more sustainable.
Visit our Up to Us page for tips on the changes you can make in your day-to-day life.
- Find out about Trócaire’s Up to Us campaign which gives advice and tips on living more sustainably and contributing to environmental wellbeing.
- Find out more about Trócaire's development education work.
by Dr Lorna Gold, Head of Policy and Advocacy with Trócaire
- Visit our Up to Us page to see what actions you can take to live more sustainably.
- Read our guest blog by actor Aidan Gillen on the devastating effect of the biofuels on communities in Guatemala
- Find out more about Trócaire's climate change work
In July of this year, a survey of the evicted families revealed the horrendous conditions they live in two years after that eviction.
- 94% of families said they have had food shortages on occasions. Less than half of households consume three basic meals a day.
- 54% of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition.
- Less than one third of the families have land for food cultivation.
- Even those who do have access to land are producing less than half the amount of food the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) say is needed for a family.
- Families are suffering restrictions, often imposed by private companies, on access to water.