There’s no denying that the People’s Climate March was historic and deserves all the superlatives being thrown at it. The fact that more than 300,000 people in New York and thousands of others around the world marched for action on climate change is astounding and something some of us in the climate movement probably couldn’t envision just a few short years ago. We should all be proud. Like many such great events, the question naturally becomes, “what’s next?”
Fortunately, the climate movement’s unofficial leader is a man brimming with ideas and the ability to communicate them. Bill McKibben, founder and Chair of 350.org, has written persuasively and passionately about climate change for years. He understands the power of the “message” as well as anyone in the movement. His main action item these days seems to be the fossil-fuel divestment movement. In that regard, we scored a major victory with the recent announcement that the Rockefeller Foundation is divesting of fossil fuel investments. But is divestment really the answer to “what’s next?” Is it the answer that will get us to our ultimate goal of dramatically cutting greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of global climate change?
The road to reaching our ultimate goal must somehow go through a process to make emissions reductions the law of the land. I can’t think of any way this happens without Congress passing legislation. This is where the way ahead becomes murky. Is the strategy to make investment in fossil fuels so unpopular that enough funds and major shareholders divest, which in turn scares the fossil fuel industry into working with its erstwhile allies in Congress to pass laws? Or is the plan to get rank and file American voters concerned enough about climate change to be galvanized by this new movement they see and thus ratchet up the pressure on their legislators to make something happen? Or maybe it’s to protest loudly enough and often enough to reach some kind of tipping point that we can’t even fathom at this time?
We have a wonderful new opportunity to scale up the climate movement in a way that’s never happened before thanks to McKibben, the many other climate activist groups, and the 300,000 people that showed up in New York. Let’s think long and hard about a strategy going forward to ensure this great display of people power doesn’t fizzle out.