The March to End Fossil Fuels on Sunday 9/17 spanned generations, and it is sure to be recounted in history books for many more. Gen-Z protesters proudly held up signs like “This is not what we meant by hot girl summer” and “The world gets hotter than Bad Bunny,” while seniors wore graphic shirts with text saying “Another grandmother for climate justice,” and “1,000 grandmothers for future generations.” Groups of older people remarked that “We’ll be marching in the back because we’re slow!” The march “reflected the diversity of New York City” comments a recent Guardian article.
I felt so lucky to be a part of a movement that had such rich participation and passion. It is rare to witness such a variety of people from all walks of life gathered in the same few blocks with a simple mission: to exercise their democratic right and raise their voice against the continued abuse of our planet and overuse of Fossil Fuels.
The purpose of the March to End Fossil Fuels was to urge world leaders, particularly President Biden, as a representative of a wealthy and influential country, to take a radical stance and begin phasing out Fossil Fuels on a Global scale. The March was timed with the UN Climate Ambition Summit on the following Wednesday (September 20th) to discuss plans to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
While Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act was a huge step in the right direction for America around climate issues, many of Biden’s quotes from the 2020 election are less than impressed by his approach to the climate crisis. Advocates are particularly disappointed by Biden’s approval of the Willow Project earlier this year; Journalist and Climate Activist Bill Mckibben explains that the Willow Project is “a huge oil-drilling complex to be built in Alaska on thawing permafrost that may need to be mechanically refrozen before it can be drilled.” Biden’s support for the Willow Project has been catastrophic for climate focused activists. Many who spoke at the March were more than disappointed that the U.S. continues to approve fossil fuel leases at sky-rocketing rates. Helen Mancini, a 16-year-old activist who works with Great Thunberg’s Friday for Futures NYC, emphasizes the urgency of eliminating fossil fuels declaring “America’s oil and gas expansion makes up ⅓ of the entire global expansion planned through 2050 (...) pushing over the 1.5 degree warming threshold that is required to maintain a habitable planet.”
Biden’s progressive promises and policies still fall short considering the severity of the situation. Climate change is no longer a theoretical catastrophe. It is now a current reality. Macini describes the dangerous changes: “This summer alone New York city skies turned orange, Libya is flooded, Maui has burned, and countless people died from heat and extreme weather.” We are not distant from a climate crisis, we are living in one. Advocates are urging President Biden to declare a climate emergency, for this very reason. There is no time to waste.
It’s not just America that fought for aggressive climate legislation. The New York Times explains that the protests in New York “followed a weekend of climate protests demonstrations in Germany, England, Senegal, South Korea, India and elsewhere.” The climate crisis affects everyone around the world. Even though some countries burn more fossil fuels than others, the reality is, as McKibben declares, “the atmosphere doesn’t care where fossil fuel is burned; the resulting carbon dioxide mixes quickly into the atmosphere and raises temperatures everywhere.” The United States’ gross excess of emissions does not just punish its citizens but also communities everywhere across oceans while adding to the warming impact significantly.
Although the climate crisis impacts everyone, it impacts people in lower socioeconomic status disproportionately. It is central to the movement, according to AOC and other advocates, that we don’t leave any specific demographic of people behind in a new sustainable economy. Emphasizing that this is a people’s movement and that renewable energy will be accessible to everyone. Mancini echos this explaining that the solution to Fossil Fuels has to be “community based renewable energy.” Climate issues intersect with race issues, class issues, and many other plagues of the modern status quo, effective climate policy will help these other ongoing disparities. Including everyone in the fight against Fossil Fuels is essential to achieve this.
On Sunday, as a collective, we certainly succeeded in AOC’s mission to be “too big and too radical to ignore.” According to PBS News, on September 20th, President Biden announced that he would be introducing a new climate initiative— the American Climate Corps. It will consist of 20,000 young adults to help build trails, plant trees, install solar panels and do other work to boost conservation. While this direct action is appreciated by activists, President Biden still did not attend the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City. In the future, President Biden must demonstrate his resolve and officially declare a climate emergency.
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Youth activism remains at the center of climate work. Fridays for Future NYC (a youth activism group) was integral to organizing the march. On the streets of Times Square, I also witnessed an inspiring and overwhelming large student turnout. The largest voting demographic in 2024 will be ages 18-34, and most importantly we will be the ones living to see the most extreme effects of climate change without progressive climate policy. It is our futures that are the most at threat, putting us in the unique position to fight for progressive climate policy.
Particularly for highschool students, like myself who are unable to vote, while being most affected by the government’s continued overuse of fossil fuels, we, as the younger generation, need to take action so that our voice continues to be heard. Joining together with commitment, passion, and spirit our generation will be a force to be reckoned with.
The newer generation also has new ways of protesting and spreading information. As Elli Greenbaum (Germantown Friends School ‘24) says, “We’re often online fighting for things on social media… This is a great way for people of our generation and age to show up and show our physical presence.” The March to End Fossil Fuels was the biggest collective climate action since the COVID-19 outbreak, and it seems that students like Greenbaum have been itching to get out of their rooms and to physically walk for something they care about.
Stretching beyond just the younger generation, everyone found energy in the crowd through community singing, dancing, and chanting. Singing Down by the Riverside, chanting “the oceans are rising and so are we,” and dancing along to the bands dispersed throughout the masses of people. The March to End Fossil Fuels was alive in every corner. When asked why she liked being in the streets marching with everyone, one woman said she loved being , “I love the energy. I’m going to take that with me.” Or another remark I heard: “I just danced away from my group!”
Not only does marching on the streets make political impacts, but also interpersonal impacts. Chanting through Times Square, united over a cause, forced me to be present in the moment and connect with the humanity and passion that surrounded me.
It is easy to slip into a negative mindset when it feels like the world is ending and elected officials aren’t doing enough to stop it. However, as AOC reminds us, we can’t “let the cynics win.” They want us to think that “this isn’t worth it” and that “we can’t win.” And to that we decide, armed with radical hope, that “this is not the world we are going to accept” (to quote Mancini) This is history in the making; we have the chance to be a part of it.
From the march, I leave with a sense of meaning, purpose, and a simple question that will not leave my head: the climate is changing, are you?