It’s hard to wrest me from a weekend at our land in southwest Wisconsin — it’s my favorite place, among the ferns and birds, coyotes and blueberries, and my garden full of vegetables, ready to be harvested.
But I gladly relinquished my weekend to climb on a bus Saturday afternoon, travel with hundreds of other Wisconsinites to New York City, and join hundreds of thousands of others in the People's Climate March. I rarely think public protests are democracy’s best tools, but climate concerns are too urgent to not use every possible strategy.
Too many things we always thought we could count on regarding our planet have been called into question. One bus passenger described a graph showing levels of carbon dioxide measured in glacial ice. Annual measurements were relatively stable for about 6,000 years, then skyrocketed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Others on the bus described the 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide with which Earth’s ecosystems co-evolved. Many scientists think that 350 ppm is the limit of what the system can tolerate. Having already reached 400 ppm and adding 2 ppm every year, we are seeing consequences in severe droughts, extreme storms, flooding, catastrophic crop losses, increased disease, and species losses.
One 23-year-old on the bus said, “My generation lives with a lot of fear about what we’re going to experience and how little time we have to address it.” Another passenger apologized to her and other young people. “I’m 73, and my generation was asleep at the switch. We didn’t see this coming. We didn’t pay attention as our politics began to permit the irresponsibility and callousness that has resulted in this travesty.”
Others on the bus discussed their motivation to come. A veteran talked about his friend and fellow veteran who killed himself recently. He deplored the loss of life and environmental destruction in wars often undertaken to protect empire. A former Wall Street financier explained, “I’m appalled that the supposedly most influential people in the country find that corporate greed is an acceptable motivation for action.”
In the local language of a man from Togo, names for months of the years describe weather. Weather patterns are so altered that names like the one for August, “the month when it rains a lot,” no longer make sense. “Our failure to control greenhouse gases leaves millions of people vulnerable across the globe,” he said.
A Native American man came because he was raised by people who taught him "to take care of the Earth, to protect the Earth, restore the Earth." Someone else said, “I can’t believe that the state that spawned John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, and nurtured Aldo Leopold is now represented in the U.S. Senate by a senator who pretends to believe that climate change is caused by sun spots. But Ron Johnson doesn’t represent me.”
The miles-long People’s Climate March was peaceful and lasted for hours. Hundreds of thousands of protesters decried climate change damage and vowed to use democracy to remove from office elected officials whose willful climate science denial jeopardizes nothing less than human and ecological viability. It is that fervent intention that inspires hope for the species planet-wide whose existence is imperiled, including our own coyotes, blueberries, and songbirds. I am glad that I went.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.