Tens of Thousands March to the UN, Declaring a Climate Emergency

Climate activists and scientists call for urgent action on climate change from President Biden and other global leaders.
on
Tens of thousands march in Manhattan in a protest to call for an end to fossil fuels on Sep. 17, 2023. Credit: Zach Roberts

Climate activists marched in New York City on Sunday to demand that world leaders curb new oil and gas drilling. 

The March to End Fossil Fuels was the first major climate march since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It brought tens of thousands, young and old, from as far away as Alaska and the Global South, to the streets of Midtown Manhattan.

Children wore homemade dinosaur hats and Greenpeace activists carried a massive skull made of recycled computer parts. Another marcher carried a sign that showed a dinosaur saying “Leave my bones alone.” 

Greenpeace built a skull from computer parts to protest Bitcoin mining. Credit: Zach Roberts

The march marked the culmination of hundreds of actions around the world that started Friday. All aimed to pressure world leaders to aggressively curb fossil fuel production and to implement a rapid, just, and equitable transition to renewable energy and a regenerative economy.

Sunday’s protest occurred ahead of a major climate ambition summit scheduled to take place at the UN’s New York headquarters on Wednesday. UN Secretary General António Guterres has asked states to present their commitments to cease developing new coal, oil, and gas projects and to provide plans to phase out existing fossil fuel production.

Activists from the Center for Biodiversity pose for a photo after the March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City on Sep. 17, 2023. Credit: Zach Roberts

Guterres’s call, coupled with the protest, is  “an incredible pressure cooker,” Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and a co-coordinator of the NYC March to End Fossil Fuels, told DeSmog.

Scientists, the International Energy Agency, and others have warned repeatedly that continuing fossil fuel development is incompatible with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold established by the Paris Climate Agreement. Some countries, however, are allowing the industry to expand.

According to a new analysis from Oil Change International, a mere 20 countries are on track to account for nearly 90 percent of the carbon emissions from planned oil and gas projects between now and 2050. The United States leads the pack as “planet wrecker in chief,” and is responsible for more than one-third of the planned expansion.

“We need people around the world to stand up and encourage our politicians to stand up to the oil and gas industry and coal industry and their planned expansion,” said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty initiative during a media briefing several days before the march. 

A marcher carries a sign after the protest. Credit: Zach Roberts

A “Clear Message” to Biden

Protest organizers told DeSmog the action was planned as a way to “send a clear message” to President Joe Biden that he must act now to halt the expansion of fossil fuels.

“He is in a pivotal position right now as the world leader of the number one oil and gas producer. If he actually chooses to phase out fossil fuels, it will be a key game changer in the entire energy market globally, and that’s what we’re asking him to do,” Su said.

Signs call out elected leaders for not following through on their campaign promises to work on climate change. Credit: Zach Roberts

Biden has been criticized for approving a slew of fossil fuel projects this year, from LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast to the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline in West Virginia and the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. The Biden administration has approved more permits for oil and gas extraction on federal lands in its first two years than the Trump administration did in its first two years.

“The Biden administration is dangerously out of tune with what climate science demands right now,” Su said.

“Energy from the Streets” is Key

The March to End Fossil Fuels calls on Biden to stop approving new fossil fuel projects and revoke the permits for projects like Willow and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It demands that the administration phase out fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters, declare a climate emergency, and provide a just transition to a renewable energy future.

An organizer with Beyond Plastics waits for the march to begin. “The Biden administration has done virtually nothing to drive down the production of plastics, and that is deeply disappointing,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and a former EPA administrator under President Barack Obama, told DeSmog. Credit: Zach Roberts

The large crowd that took to Midtown Manhattan on Sunday backed those demands. Over 700 organizations officially endorsed the event, along with scores of actors and influential activists and hundreds of scientists. Supporters came from around the world: the Yukon River in Alaska, Cancer Alley in Louisiana, the Global South.

“Without energy from the streets, without people taking matters into their own hands in a peaceful way, we’re really not going to win this battle,” Steven Donziger, an environmental and human rights lawyer, told DeSmog. ”This is the kind of thing that’s driving change, it’s driving court cases that are starting to change things, it’s driving political change, and it all starts here in the street.”

“I knew I had to give my all to try to curb the climate crisis when I was only 12 years old,” Emma Buretta, 17, a New York city high school student and organizer with Fridays for Future, said at a press conference ahead of the march. “I do not understand why that is so clear to a 12-year-old and not clear to an 80-year-old man who is the president of the United States.”

Summer of Climate Catastrophes

The public call for climate action comes “on the heels of so many climate catastrophes happening around the world,” said Emily Wurth, a director at Food and Water Watch.

For at least a dozen U.S. cities, this summer was the hottest ever recorded. Smoke from wildfires in Canada blanketed the northeast, horrendous flooding wreaked havoc in Vermont, and devastating wildfires left nearly 100 dead — and displaced thousands — in Maui.

“We’ve seen many disasters that have happened in the past weeks, months and even years, and we can’t ignore that anymore,” Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate told DeSmog during Sunday’s march. “The communities on the frontlines are already suffering at 1.2 degrees. That is why we need our leaders to take action … and that means no new fossil fuel investment. The United Nations Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres has said any new investments in fossil fuels is moral and economic madness.”

Changes to U.S. climate policy will come only if politicians listen to the demands of the people petitioning, lobbying, and marching in the streets. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), and presidential candidate Cornel West called on their colleagues to act faster.

“What we need is leadership. What we need is imagination,” said Berman. “And we need elected officials, especially President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau in North America, where Climate Week will be held, to stop making the problem bigger.… This couldn’t be a more important moment.”

image_50427649
Dana is an environmental journalist focusing on climate change and climate accountability reporting. She writes regularly for DeSmog covering topics such as fossil fuel industry opposition to climate action, climate change lawsuits, greenwashing and false climate solutions, and clean transportation.
Black and white image of a man with bear and glasses, the left half of his face illuminated and the right half in shadow
Zach D. Roberts is a photojournalist covering the far right in America and is a Puffin Foundation artist.

Related Posts

on

Legal challenges could delay the EPA’s ability to enact the measures, which coincide with Louisiana activists' fight against projects poised to increase air pollution.

Legal challenges could delay the EPA’s ability to enact the measures, which coincide with Louisiana activists' fight against projects poised to increase air pollution.
on

Experts say the case has set a vital “blueprint” for holding governments to account over climate change.

Experts say the case has set a vital “blueprint” for holding governments to account over climate change.
on

Summit Carbon Solutions insisted for years that its proposed Midwest carbon pipeline network would not be used for enhanced oil recovery in North Dakota.

Summit Carbon Solutions insisted for years that its proposed Midwest carbon pipeline network would not be used for enhanced oil recovery in North Dakota.
on

Industry leaders praise UN food and climate plan as “music to our ears”.

Industry leaders praise UN food and climate plan as “music to our ears”.