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A March to Change Everything

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”                      – Margaret Mead

Citizens are persons owing allegiance to and entitled to the protection of a sovereign state.

The term citizen has an urban origin, derived from the Anglo-Norman word citezein and French citoyen. It is based on the Latin civitas, meaning people united in a city or community.

Citizens across the world will be united in the largest march in history, People’s Climate March, on Sunday, September 21 because the states to which they owe allegiance are not protecting them from climate change.

In Nelson, people will gather in front of City Hall at 4:30 p.m. and after some speeches will march to the Nelson United Church where a potluck supper will be held starting at 5:30 p.m. The film DISRUPTION will be shown at 7:30 p.m.

The event is co-sponsored by the West Kootenay EcoSociety, Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC, Citizens Climate Lobby, Kootenay Positive Action Team, Nelson Chapter Council of Canadians, andNelson United Church.

There is power in collective action. History shows that with concerted, unified, collective effort, changes that at one time seemed impossible have time and again come to pass. The women’s rights, civil rights, anti-nuclear, anti-war, First Nations and other groups have all used large gatherings and marches to win fundamental changes in government policies.

The gathering of 20 million people on the first Earth Day in 1970 is credited with persuading U.S. President Richard Nixon to pass a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water Act, an Endangered Species Act and to establish the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since the time of the ancient Athenians, citizenship has guaranteed the right to guide the community, to take action, and to appeal the rulings of the state.

Tarrys resident will march in New York

In a bid to influence world leaders attending United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Climate Summit 2014 on September 23, thousands will march through the streets of New York City and other cities around the world on the Sunday before the Summit and Laura Sacks of Tarrys will be among them.

“I am going to New York because I feel passionately that climate change is the largest issue facing the future of humanity, but it is not being addressed at a scale nearly equal to the seriousness of the problem,” the 51-year-old mother of two said in an interview.

“By joining together in solidarity with thousands of others, we will let world leaders know that it is not acceptable to gamble away our children’s futures for short-term profits,” she said.  “There are solutions out there, and we just need the political will to implement them.

“I hope we can be a large enough voice that they will have to listen,” Sacks added. 

With a BS in Geology and MS in Environmental Sciences, Sacks has the educational background to substantiate her concerns for the planet. She operated a local organic farm, Soil Matters, for nine years, including a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for five years -- providing around 25 families with fresh organic produce for 30 weeks of the year.  

Sacks participated in Selkirk's renewable energy certificate program last year, and has been working on a multi-university advanced certificate in Decision Making for Climate Change.

“For me personally, I look forward to connecting with others – people from all walks of life – who understand the urgency of the climate issue,” she said.  “I am looking forward to learning from the many excellent forums, workshops, and talks that are happening during that same time. 

“And I hope to come home invigorated and better prepared to motivate others locally to help create the political will for climate action.”

CCL promotes revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend

Sacks is a founding member of the Nelson chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a group with 200 chapters and more than 7,000 members worldwide. CCL is focused exclusively on passing a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend to address climate change.

She and three other CCL members recently met with MP Alex Atamanenko to lobby for a carbon fee and dividend initiative that CCL-sponsored research has found could reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 per cent while adding 2.8 million jobs to the U.S. economy by 2035.

Ki-Moon hopes the summit will serve as a public platform for leaders at the highest level – all UN Member States, as well as finance, business, civil society and local leaders from public and private sectors – to catalyze ambitious action that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.

U.S. President Barack Obama will be attending, as will U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron. In fact, 125 headsof state will be there.

Harper to skip the Summit

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, will not. In a statementreleased by the Prime Minister’s office, spokesperson Jason MacDonald said that Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq will attend the summit in his stead even though Harper will be in New York to attend a different event on September 25.  

Green Party leader Elizabeth May says that she’s disappointed that the prime minister isn’t attending.

“Ever since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, Canada’s position at UN climate conferences has been to undermine discussions, block progress and sabotage negotiations – that’s why we’ve received more Fossil of the Day awards than any other country,” May told Yahoo Canada News, referencing a mock award presented to the countries that do their best to block progress at the UN climate change negotiations.

“Climate change is affecting agriculture, water resources, human health, and ecosystems on land and in the oceans,” says Ki-Moon. “It poses sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations.”

He says the summit will showcase solutions and forge partnerships that can steer the world away from cataclysm and towards a sustainable future.

“Let us take advantage of the opportunities presented by climate action and lay the foundations for a more prosperous and secure future for all,” says Ki-Moon.

But the very fact he has called this summit and uses the word “cataclysm” is proof that many world leaders have been ignoring scientific warnings and solutions for decades.

“Civil resistance may be our best hope”

The first article in the New York Times mentioning climate change appeared on October 28, 1956. Dr. James Hansen, the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before the U.S. Congress in the 1980s to raise awareness of global warming. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth film was released in 2006.

World leaders have stumbled through previous summits in Rio de Janeiro 1992, Kyoto 1996, and every year since 2001 and cannot resolve a binding agreement on even voluntary limits on greenhouse gas emissions. They only seem to agree on holding more talks about talks.

As James Hansen has stated: “The international community seems to be headed down a path toward inadequate agreements at best. Civil resistance may be our best hope.”

It is time for citizens to exert their will, to tell our leaders what course of action we want them to follow.

As Ban Ki-Moon has stated “Climate change affects us all. So what’s stopping us joining forces to act on it?”

If we don’t act on climate change it means we are living at the expense of the future we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.

Not only are we all bystanders, we are also perpetrators who are contributing to climate change.

The science has been proven; the solutions are at hand, now we are searching for the political will to act.

Change happens because people like you and I decide to get involved.

Take back the future. Take the wheel of history and turn it. Take the responsibility to rise to a historical moment.

Nothing moves public opinion more than seeing large numbers of people advocating a cause.

The march's slogan is: “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone.” Citizens, are you ready to march?

Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based energy and sustainability consultant who has written about environmental issues for more than two decades. He is a member of his local Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter and can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca