NEW YORK — More than 300,000 people marched through the streets of New York City on Sunday in what organizers called the largest climate-change demonstration in history.
With banners, flags, floats and drums, protesters at the “People’s Climate March” overwhelmed midtown Manhattan in flocks of vivid color, demanding action ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit this week.
“I’m totally passionate about our planet and what’s happening with our life here,” said Heather Snow, 57, a massage therapist from Wilmington, N.C. “The whole Congress, everyone has gone insane, and it’s time to end the insanity. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but it’s got to happen soon. We’re running out of time.”
The massive march kicked off at 11:30 a.m. on the ritzy Upper West Side along Central Park before winding its way through the city on a two-mile route. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, former U.S. vice president Al Gore, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and actors Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio joined thousands of protesters at the march.
Ban announced last week that DiCaprio was named U.N. Messenger of Peace for his commitment to environmental causes.
Protesters chanted, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” They carried signs with messages that read: “Go Solar,” “You Control Climate Change” and “There Is No Planet B.”
More than 1,100 organizations endorsed the march, organized by a coalition of groups including 350.org, Avaaz, the Sierra Club, Climate Justice Alliance and the Service Employees International Union.
The march is the first in a series of events held around the world this week to shine a spotlight on global warming ahead of the U.N. summit Tuesday. President Obama and world leaders from government, finance and business will be at the U.N. to announce initiatives meant to move the world toward limiting global warming.
The U.N. says 125 nations will be represented. It’s the first time in five years that world leaders have gathered to discuss climate change.
The U.N. summit aims to get world leaders to pledge emission cuts that could become part of a global agreement to be approved at U.N. climate talks next year in Paris.
Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver keynote remarks at the summit’s opening event. He will showcase climate action that the USA is taking at home and present his vision for advancing a global low carbon economy, his office said Sunday.
The People’s Climate March and the summit are part of Climate Week NYC, an annual event “to get people together to make the business case for climate action,” said Sylvain Biville of the Climate Group, which organizes the week. The Climate Group’s goal is “a prosperous, low-carbon future,” which the group says will be achieved by “a rapid scale-up of low carbon energy and technology.”
This year’s Climate Week events follow a series of scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that conclude global warming is “unequivocal” and that it is extremely likely that human activity has been the dominant cause since the mid-20th century.
According to the IPCC, the world is on a path to exceed a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, the limit that countries have set to ensure that the world would not suffer the worst effects of climate change.
On the streets of New York on Sunday, the marchers were led by indigenous groups from around the world. Organizers say many of these indigenous people are often the first victims of climate change.
At 12:58 p.m., protesters raised their hands above their heads and quieted for a moment of silence to honor them.
Ezra Silk, 25, of Portland, Maine, said the USA has to take action on climate change if it wants to protect the nation’s democracy. He pointed to Syria as an example of how climate change can contribute to a country’s collapse.
“There was the worst drought in its modern history,” said Silk, co-founder of The Climate Mobilization, which advocates a World War II-scale intervention on climate change. “It caused a major upheaval when all the farmers came into the cities. There was a tyrant, who then oppressed his people, a civil war broke out, destabilizing the entire region, and a group like ISIS has come to the forefront. I mean that’s the embodiment of what America is not about, and that’s what collapse of civilization would look like.”
Many families brought their children to the march, pointing to them as the reason the tide must change.
Robyn Moore, 39, was at the rally with her husband, Martin Moore, 40, their daughter, Charlotte, 4, and son, Henry, 15 months. Charlotte wore a simple drawing of the earth around her neck, her hair adorned with leaves.
“We’re here as a family for the future of our kids,” she said.