As environmental lawyer and author Gus Speth once said, "Politicians ride the waves. People's movements make the waves."
On Sunday, September 21, I will be with my daughter in New York City, marching with tens of thousands of concerned citizens demanding action on the climate crisis. The march is timed to build pressure on world leaders and show support for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's Climate Solutions Summit on September 23.
Almost a year ago, in December 2013, I was in Warsaw at the 19thConference of the Parties (COP) for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change—the world's legally binding climate treaty—when the secretary general announced the summit. He wants to push governments to make real progress.
On current levels of effort, we will miss all targets and run the risk of ever-accelerating, catastrophic global warming.
Negotiations for meaningful climate action—held every year since the early 1990s—are moving at a snail's pace. One step forward, two steps back. The so-called global leaders—the rich countries of the world—hope lip service will be enough to satisfy their citizens. The real laggards, such as the prime minister of my country, hope that action can be delayed to protect fossil fuel profits.
Ban Ki-Moon, knowing the deadline for the next treaty is only a bit more than a year away, has called on leaders to come to the United Nations headquarters in New York this September to share solutions. He was clear in Warsaw. On current levels of effort, we will fail our children. We will miss all targets and run the risk of ever-accelerating, catastrophic global warming. We need real leadership. We need countries to step up.
Ever since the disastrous world gathering in 2009 in Copenhagen, I have felt as though the international climate movement has been in a state of post-traumatic stress disorder. The dashing of hopes. The cop-outs and sell-outs from around the world turned the climate movement back inward: “Forget 'global.' Let's work at local levels for change.”
But we cannot afford to forget the global. We must exert every effort to achieve the kind of meaningful treaty that protected the ozone layer in the 1987 Montreal Protocol. We need to re-engage.
We must demand that governments everywhere plan and begin the transition off of fossil fuels.
People ask why, as a federal member of the Canadian Parliament, I feel I need to march. I attend the United Nations’ Conference of Parties every year. I am the only member of Parliament to do so—other than the Minister of Environment, who represents the Canadian government's drive to sabotage climate action. I am leader of a federal political party—the Green Party. And I have a seat in the House of Commons on behalf of my constituents in Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia.
I have a strong voice. I have other venues and actions I can take … so why march?
The world media will not take note, the governments of the world will not take note, other politicians will not take note of the climate crisis as long as they can find other issues and distractions. We must have a massive public mobilization that demands that governments everywhere plan and begin the transition off of fossil fuels.
Nothing wakes up a society like a public movement. Marches led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. ended segregation. Marches led to the end of the war in Vietnam.
Taking to the streets won women the vote. It mobilized the pressure that led to Nelson Mandela being released from a South African prison. It led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. None of those things were viewed as possible—until they happened.
So my daughter and I will get on the train from Montreal to Manhattan. We will march in a mass of humanity, the human river of protest that has made its way for so many causes through the canyons of New York skyscrapers.
I will march because in the end, it's not the politicians that make the change that the world needs. As Gus Speth once said, "Politicians ride the waves. People's movements make the waves."
Come to New York. March for climate sanity. We need you.
This article originally appeared on YES! Magazine
Elizabeth May was elected the leader of the Green Party of Canada in 2006, and in 2011 became the first member of the Green Party to be elected to the House of Commons. She is a writer, activist, and lawyer, and has been participating in the environmental movement since 1970.