Tens of thousands of Londoners and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide took to the streets on Sunday to raise awareness of climate change as part of a global initiative which has been deemed the largest environmental demonstrations ever seen.
London’s version of The People’s Climate March, which was organised by environmental organisations and NGOs, set off at Temple, continuing through the capital and passing the Department of Energy and Climate Change building and Whitehall. The organisers said after the events that an estimated 30,000 people showed up for the London parade and more than 400,000 in New York, which is about 3-4 times more than expected and that 2808 solidarity events took place in 166 countries around the world.
Young and old, celebrities, tourists, people from all kinds of backgrounds (and even the odd dog), all joined in to shout about the same cause. And although parts of the parade resembled the Notting Hill Carnival – with people flocking around lorries blasting out loud dance music – the heart of the matter was apparent from the placards and banners: action must be taken to tackle climate change.
Celebrity speakers such as Vivienne Westwood, Emma Thompson and Richard Chartres the Bishop of London, who made a commitment not to fly in over a year, joined the march and wowed the masses who had managed to make it to Westminster in time for the talks – at this time there were still protestors all the way back not far from the starting point in Temple waiting eagerly to join the party.
Actress Emma Thompson, who recently went to the Arctic with Greenpeace together with her daughter Gaia – who also joined her mum in the march – said climate change is the human rights issue of all time: “On the walls of the Arctic, the writing is very clear: climate change is written on the valleys, where 80 meters up, you can see the water mark where the glaciers used to be. And standing beneath them were glaciologists who’ve been there for 30 years, with tears in their eyes, saying: ‘To you it’s beautiful, but to us it feels like a graveyard’.“
Designer Vivienne Westwood, a long-time climate activist, attended the march. She said: “For two hundred years we in the privileged world have believed in the capitalist system, and it’s now come to an end, because it’s run on fossil fuels and they’re running out. It’s now the end of capitalism which is a structure designed to create poverty. We really can see this now, it’s become very clear to us that we believe it’s a very terrible thing.
“We must talk about it. This is an overview, but the nearest overview is that we don’t have any democracy. Because this triad of banks, monopolies and government is desperate to keep it going. And they have resorted to extremes which make it even more dangerous. One example is fracking. So, there is no democracy, the governments do what they like.”
“They don’t care about people. In fact people are dispensable and so we don’t have anybody in the main parties to vote for. They are all the same. We have to fight government. One last thing is, there is a way out: What’s good for the planet is good for the economy. What’s bad for the planet is bad for the economy. And what’s good for the planet and the economy is good for people and what’s good for people is the way out of our difficulties.”
Alice Hooker-Stroud who works on a project called Zero Carbon Britain at the Centre for Alternative Technology, said that we already have all we need to create a zero carbon economy with 100 percent clean energy and that we need to find the ability to imagine an alternative future to get there.
“We all know that our current efforts to tackle climate change are not enough. If you look at the kind of future that we are heading for, even with current emission reduction in place globally, it’s a future that’s 3-4, maybe more degrees celsius more than today. And I used to work in climate science, so I’ve spent quite a long time looking at exactly what that future looks like, and quite frankly it’s just depressing. I don’t want to talk about it, let alone live in it.”.
That alternative future needs drastic change as business as usual is not a possible future, she says and it is not going to be easy – but it can be done:
“When we look at what we need to do to tackle climate change, we need much more than an eighty percent reduction by 2050. We need at least net zero greenhouse gas emissions, basically ASAP. We proved that this is possible, using only currently available technology. Technologically, there is no reason for less ambitious action than this. There is no reason not to start immediately. We can reduce UK energy demands by 60% and maintain the modern standard of living.
“We have huge renewable resources in the UK. In fact we have the best wind resources in the world, and we can power the UK with 100% renewable clean energy, we don’t need fossil fuels. We don’t need fracking and we don’t need nuclear power. This is a viable energy system. We can count on it and cater for energy demand every single hour, even in the winters when the sun doesn’t show up. We’ve got enough space on UK land, not only to provide ourselves with a healthy sustainable diet, but to break biomass sustainably that we need for the energy system. And to have more space for natural systems like forests and peat bogs. But we all know that these aren’t small changes.
“We need to basically do a lot of stuff. We need to insulate our buildings, electrify our transport systems, change how we travel and how much we travel. We need to scale up on renewable generation technology amazingly. We need to change how we use our lands. I’m not saying this is easy, but climate change is a big problem and there is no small solution. we need to recognise that the choice is not between change and no change.
She said there is a viable alternative which may be ambitious but does not defy the laws of physics.. “If we continue as we are, we will change the climate system and so we will not be able to continue doing the same thing as we are doing today. So the real choice is between changing in response to a rapidly altered climate system or changing by choice. It is a challenge for society but it is not a challenge for technology.
The London march was only one of 2,000 similar events around the world, including Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Berlin, Brazil, Australia and New York, where UN General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore took part. On Tuesday over one hundred world leaders will gather for the climate talks in New York.
Before wrapping up the march with one minute of silence, Alex Wilkz, Director of global campaign group Avaaz which was one of the organisers, said this is a rebirth of a movement which can lead us forward and drive us to “deliver a wake up call to our politicians” so that we can finally get an agreement on mitigating climate change. “And it’s going to take a lot more than today”, he said, urging the crowd to continue pushing for change from now until the 2015 Climate Summit in Paris.
“We need to pound the pavements, make noise and get all this across the internet and let the House of Commons, Downing Street and their equivalents know that people want to address this threat before it’s too late.”
Words, images and video footage was produced by me (sorry about the low quality video – it was made using an old smartphone)