As Earth Day approaches and people around the world gear up for the climate marches, it’s time to address what impact, if any, those marches will have. And when I say impact, I mean impact on ending the climate crisis, the impact that matters.
As someone who has participated in plenty of marches over the years, this is not meant in any way shape or form as an indictment of marching. It is rather a look into the reality of marches and their actual impact.
First, there is the matter of the situation and what is needed to accomplish the intended result. The reality of the climate crisis is that we have approximately four years in which to cause a radical reduction in our global carbon emissions if we are to get on track to ending the crisis in time. A reality, I suggest which is unknown to the vast majority of those making plans to board their buses to DC and other capitals around the globe.
If you’re marching, it’s important to be clear who or what you are marching to and what are you marching for. It is assumed that who or what you are marching to have the power and that your marching will somehow sway them to act so as to achieve what those who are marching want.
To march on the government assumes that the government is the entity that needs to alter its action. So somehow taking steps to impact the actions of those in office, including a march on the government, would be the way to go. And in some situations, that is entirely appropriate.
For example, in ending the Vietnam War, the government was the entity that had the power to make that happen. The president and Congress had the power to say, “We are withdrawing our troops; we are going to stop the war”—and those declarations actually could (and did) end the war. So to march on the government, to put pressure on elected officials to take that action, was consistent with the reality of the situation. It was the appropriate strategy.
Ending the climate crisis is not that kind of situation. The government does not have the power to end the climate crisis. The climate crisis will not be ended by the declaration of any government body or official or by the passage or enactment of laws or policies.
The end of the climate crisis will only come as a function of the actions that directly reduce the amount of carbon emitted into our atmosphere. Period. And for us to be successful in the long-term mission of achieving a future of sustainability, what is called for in the near term is a dramatic reduction in emissions over the next four years.
Even if we could somehow change current government policies or prevent from happening some of the environmentally related changes being proposed, none of that would make an appreciable difference in the critical near-term. Our situation—including where we are, where we need to be for success, and what is called for to make that happen—is simply not a situation that a governmental action can accomplish.
We are gearing up to march to the wrong people.
Again, this is not an indictment of marches themselves. But to examine the situation from its actuality and not its dramatic illusions brings it down to what actually matters. The prevailing mindset for most of the world is that climate change is too big and too complex for individuals to make the difference, that who can make the difference is someone or something else, and that the best I can do is to somehow influence those with the power. This is the myth that the world lives in, the myth that keeps individuals powerless, the myth that will be there silently underlying all of all those marches.
It’s not that marches don’t have any impact. They do. They will make known the will of people around the world to alter something in the matter of climate change. The marchers will ride their buses back home with a wonderful sense of community and an experience of having done something that impacted an issue they deeply care about.
What people won’t see, however, is that in the matter of what is called for in reality to make the difference will not be accomplished through marching. And worse, that as a function of the parade of fiery and inspiring speeches they heard all day, speeches based in the myth that “government has the power,” they will come home even more firmly entrapped in the blind constraints of that myth. The illusion of ground taken will have them more emboldened to keep fighting the same ghosts. And they will be left with what people with no real power cling to—hope.
To get on track to ending the climate crisis in time is a matter of reducing our annual carbon emissions by approximately 8 gigatons by 2020. This will happen as a result— and only as a result—of direct action, and not through legislation or policy by any entity, be it governmental or any other.
The power to produce this result lies not with any institution, agency, government, department, task force, convening body, organization, or the like. It lies with you, with me, with us. We, as a global community of committed individuals, are the ones who hold the key. Taking simple, everyday carbon-reducing actions is what will make the difference in bridging the critical 2020 emissions gap, in reducing our emissions such that our extraordinary opportunity to end the crisis is seized and not squandered.
Let us take this time, when the world turns its focus to Earth Day, as the opportunity to wake up, to bring real thinking to the situation. To have this be not a time of hope, gestures, and best efforts, but rather a time of awareness, empowerment, and action.
If you want to march to power, real power, march into your bathroom and look in the mirror. Then we can get to the real job of mobilizing the world to end the crisis, waking humanity from its trance of powerlessness, and unleashing individuals everywhere to make the difference.