They flocked from all over New York City, some from out of town, many on bicycles, to Dag Hammarsjkold Plaza, a park across 1st Avenue from the United Nations building, in concert with over 2000 public actions in over 175 countries. They seem to come a little bit earlier every year ever since 350.org launched its first global demonstration in 2009; they precede the annual United Nations climate negotiations that go back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Although what will be known as COP17 (17th Conference of the Parties) will be held in Durban, South Africa in November, a UN delegation of representatives from indigenous nations spoke at the rally in New York. Though their testimony of being already affected by climate change was serious, and their cultural sentiments about nature were ancient, their speeches fit right into the mood of what was intended to be a fun, creative assembly.
There were many students from the CUNY chapters of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), other schools, and young people in general. There were people of all ages and every borough. A very noticeable thing was the diversity of environmental movements present. Times Up!, a 25 year old NYC group that periodically launches direct actions in defense of bike lanes and community gardens rode in with a sound bike, decked out with their signature flag, flowers, street items and speaker for music.
Carina Nieves and her friend, representing the “Power Shift Generation,” particularly highlighted with their signs the contentious new pipelines being built around the world such as the Keystone XL from ALberta to Texas and La Via Verde in Puerto Rico. These projects are not only believed to pollute the air but potentially contaminating major aquifers and critical wetlands.
Antifracking and antinuclear movements were present throughout the rally as well. There seemed to be no conflict, no disagreement. 350.org represents a scientific limit initially advocated by Dr. James Hanson, who was present at the rally, which indicates that civilization needs to bring carbon in the atmosphere back down to 1990 levels, or 350 parts per million. Other than this, 350.org does not represent a specific legislative charter for the UN or the US where it is primarily based. As of such, their events are appreciated by groups of diverse political philosophies and have become a grass roots arm of the UN climate negotiations. Sarah James, from Arctic Village in Alaska, said, “We have so many people to reach to,” not only to “keep our air clean” but “air, water, land and life in order to survive.” Although it was very much a political demonstration, and she is from one of the most climate-impacted regions of the world, she concluded by promoting: reduce, reuse, refuse and recycle.