Got Climate Change?

CM Diane my sign
Diane Burko hold­ing my sign

I was one of the 300,000-plus peo­ple in the People’s Cli­mate March in New York on Sep­tem­ber 21 – and like many oth­ers there, it had been a long time since I joined a march. I couldn’t pass up the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be part of a big crowd, all shar­ing a grow­ing feel­ing of alarm over pat­terns of cli­mate change, and deep dis­may over pat­terns of denial among those who could and/or should know bet­ter.

The low clouds held back except for a brief spat­ter of rain, and the mood held too: a love­ly parade buoy­an­cy, and a pal­pa­ble excite­ment at being part of a vis­i­ble expres­sion of some­thing we all cared about. I went on one of dozens of bus­es from Philadel­phia orga­nized by 350.org, car­ry­ing my hand­made sign, say­ing WAKE UP. My part­ner for the day was Diane Burko, an artist who has been mak­ing pow­er­ful paint­ings and pho­tographs doc­u­ment­ing the melt­ing of glac­i­ers and oth­er effects of cli­mate change. Diane has trav­eled to the Arc­tic Cir­cle, Green­land, and Antarc­ti­ca, and to sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ences to speak about her work.

CM give bees a chance
This group’s slo­gan was Give Bees a Chance

The parade had sev­en the­mat­ic group­ings, start­ing with FRONTLINES OF CRISIS, FOREFRONT OF CHANGE and end­ing with the inclu­sive TO CHANGE EVERYTHING, WE NEED EVERYONE. Diane and I joined the group behind the ban­ner THE DEBATE IS OVER, whose float was a giant rolling black­board with draw­ings chart­ing ris­ing CO2 and ocean tem­per­a­tures. We were sur­round­ed by scientists—old and young, men and women, of many back­grounds, and many with their children—representing fields from geol­o­gy to psy­cho­analy­sis.

Because the turnout was so much high­er then expect­ed – esti­mates had been around 100,000 before­hand – the street backed up with par­tic­i­pants, and those of us in the back stood for sev­er­al hours before actu­al­ly march­ing. Piz­zas were deliv­ered, snacks and water were shared. Final­ly, we set off down Cen­tral Park West, walk­ing with peo­ple who had lost homes to Kat­ri­na and Sandy, young activists, old activists, dig­ni­taries, work­ing peo­ple, stilt walk­ers, musi­cians, peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing Pacif­ic island nations whose very land is in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing under ris­ing seas.

Giant puppet of Statue of Liberty
The Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty in ris­ing waters, wear­ing a life jack­et

The parade end­ed at 11th Avenue, near the Hud­son Riv­er. It’s not far from here, I real­ized, that a scene takes place toward the end of Jen­nifer Egan’s nov­el A Vis­it from the Goon Squad. In Egan’s bril­liant vision of the ways we are changed by tech­nol­o­gy and oth­er forces, cli­mate change has become part of the back­ground of city life: a few decades from now, on a warm day in Feb­ru­ary, a young fam­i­ly gath­ers with oth­ers on the ram­parts of the giant sea wall that’s been built to keep the ris­ing waters out of New York. Climb­ing up to watch the sun­set from there has become a new tra­di­tion, since the view has been blocked out by the wall.

What will we have to face as a result of the cli­mate change that has already been set in motion? Peo­ple whose cities have the resources to build sea walls will be the lucky ones. We need to acknowl­edge what sci­en­tists are telling us, and we need help from artists and oth­ers to visu­al­ize what’s hap­pen­ing now, and to imag­ine what’s in store. We need to wake up.

 

 

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