New York streets fill with climate protesters

Hundreds of thousands march ahead of tomorrow’s climate change summit

Demonstrators near Central Park during the People’s Climate March in New York yesterday. Photograph: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg

Demonstrators near Central Park during the People’s Climate March in New York yesterday. Photograph: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg


Billed as “the biggest climate demonstration in history”, hundreds of thousands of people – activists, students, celebrities and even some environmentally aware billionaires – marched through Manhattan yesterday to demand bolder action on climate change.

The People’s Climate March, in advance of tomorrow’s one-day summit called by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, assembled along Central Park West and then proceeded from Columbus Circle down Sixth Avenue to 34th Street, near the newly extended High Line Park.

Organisers estimated that some 310,000 people took part, including Mr Ban himself as well as former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, current mayor Bill de Blasio, former US vice-president Al Gore and Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, now a UN “Messenger of Peace”.

After observing a minute’s silence, participants were encouraged to “make as much noise as possible”, with whistles and whatever else they had, in an action mirrored on a smaller scale in many other cities, including a “climate picnic” in St Stephen’s Green.

By agreement with New York police, the climate march was confined to the west side, far from the UN headquarters on First Avenue, where more than 120 world leaders are due to meet tomorrow.

Trade unions

The huge turnout was not surprising, given that the march had been endorsed by 1,400 organisations, including environmental groups, trade unions and religious organisations. Along the 4km route, church bells tolled in support of action.

Activist groups and Avaaz, the principal organisers, are believed to have raised several million dollars for the campaign. During the past week alone, volunteers distributed more than a million fliers about the march and canvassed subway commuters.

“I’ve never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway, that spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet [and] that claims you can change world history in an afternoon,” wrote blogger Arun Gupta.

Gupta, who edited the Occupied Wall Street Journal, claimed that the march had been depoliticised. “You wouldn’t see Avaaz promoting an Occupy-style action. The strategic decision was made to have a big march and get as many mainstream groups on board as possible.”

Student banners and flags

Busloads of students arrived from all over the US northeast armed with banners, placards, flags and symbolic lifebelts. The more radical among them will likely join a “Flood Wall Street” protest today, intended to “shut down the institutions that are profiting from the climate crisis”.

Among them will be Occupy Wall Street veterans as well as author and activist Naomi Klein, who told Al Jazeera: “They’re opening up all kinds of new frontiers for fracking, for tar sands, for coal, and so people in the streets are going to be expressing their sense of urgency.”

While much of the American public remains sceptical, climate change has a resonance in New York due to the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy two years ago.

In advance of this year’s “Climate Week NYC”, Mr de Blasio announced that the city planned to upgrade all public buildings with a view to cutting their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Privately owned buildings will also be required to cut energy consumption.