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Why the People’s Climate Movement Must Grow

  • A month after the march about climate change, Shaun (Sha) Grogan-Brown says more grassroots action is needed because global leaders aren't doing enough.

It’s been one month since the largest climate march in history, and recent “Climate Action” pledges from global leaders like the Department of Defense, President Obama and the United Nations do not add up to what communities need.


Shaun (Sha) Grogan-Brown

The People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21, was a historic event. It was historic because of the unprecedented numbers — 400,000 people came out to the march largely to raise awareness about the increasing urgency of climate change, and how natural disasters hit low-income communities first and worst.

It was historic because the participants and leaders of the march were made up of primarily people of color on the frontlines of the climate and economic crises. Communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, youth of color doing environmental justice work and indigenous peoples from around the world led a broad march from many sectors including faith communities, labor and more.

For Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), it was historic to mobilize for this march because of the way the grassroots organizing sector and climate policy organizations came together to collaborate in the planning of the march. They laid the groundwork for strengthened relationships and a broader united movement for climate justice.

In days following the march, people took action to pressure the United Nations (U.N.) and global leaders to take real community-led action on Climate Change. On Sept. 22, Occupy Wall Street activists responded to a call to action from grassroots organizers of the Our Power Campaign and organized the Flood Wall Street mass sit-in.

  • Many parents attended the People’s Climate March last month in New York City, especially to raise awareness about pollution and the health of kids. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Participants at last month\’s People’s Climate March linked various social issues together, including the environment and racial justice. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Scores of young people joined the People’s Climate March in September in New York City. A month later, many say more needs to be done. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Domestic workers joined hundreds of thousands of people concerned about pollution at the People’s Climate March on Sept. 20 in New York City. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in New York City on Sept. 21 to raise awareness about climate change. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • The People’s Climate March in New York City last month attracted a diverse group interested in having a clean and safe environment. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Members of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Chinese Progressive Association joined the People’s Climate March last month in New York City. Photo source: Our Power Campaign flickr page

  • The People’s Climate March was one of the largest of its kind, attracting up to 400,000 people in New York City, organizers said. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • A man holds a child on his shoulders, two of hundreds of thousands of participants at the People’s Climate March on Sept. 20 in New York City. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • The climate change movement has attracted interest from a diverse group, including youth who held banners on Sept. 20 in New York City. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • The People’s Climate March brought out a colorful display of art and banner to raise awareness about the environment and how pollution and change are affecting neighborhoods. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Participants at last month’s People’s Climate March brought energy, art and passion to New York City. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • One major focus at the People’s Climate March in New York City last month were kids – and the environment they will have as adults. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • A month after the People’s Climate March, supporters say more work needs to be done, citing disappointment with what they say is a lack of action by the U.S. government. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

  • Mari Rose Taruc of Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network raises awareness about climate change on Sept. 20 in New York City. Photo by Rae Breaux on Our Power Campaign flickr page.

On that day and Sept. 23, the Our Power Campaign held a People’s Climate Justice Summit and People’s Tribunal to offer up community-led solutions and call out the False Promises that the U.N. dubs “Climate Action,” calling on global leaders to catch up to communities on the ground who know what kind of Climate Action they really need.

Unfortunately, the UN response was far from historic. The U.N. Climate Summit’s branding was deceptive: “I’m for Climate Action.” At first glance, that may seem like a good thing. We want action on climate, right?

However, what the U.N. calls “Climate Action” is not the kind of action that communities around the globe need, so much so that on Sept. 23, members of the Our Power Campaign delivered a statement to the U.N.

They called out their inaction on climate change and calling the U.N. Climate Summit “little more than a pep rally pushing carbon trading offsets and weak voluntary or limited pledges for emission cuts leading up to the global climate treaty negotiations in Paris next year.”

Obama’s response was disappointing as well. He shared the U.N.’s rhetoric about “taking action” and “reducing emissions” yet the pledges the U.S. made will not get us anywhere close to where we need to be in order to prevent major climate catastrophes.

One month later, we still have yet to see global leaders make moves to take the “Climate Action” that frontline communities really need.

Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, referring to climate change as a “threat multiplier.”

While it’s notable that the DOD finally acknowledges that the devastating impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable populations are happening now rather than regarding climate change as a future threat, the majority of this report focuses on the impacts climate change will have on the U.S. military’s “more than 7,000 bases, installations, and other facilities.”

In fact, this report appears to make the case for increased militarization in places where the U.S. has assets and for more investment into expanding military operations.

Increased militarization will not make things better for poor and low-income families, is more likely to lead to greater political destabilization in many countries of the Global South, and heightens police violence in communities of color, as recent events in Ferguson, Missouri clearly illustrated in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.

The DOD is one of the world’s largest emitters, and the single largest consumer of energy in the US, yet renewable energy has never represented more than 5% of total DOD facility consumption. The DOD should instead prioritize their mitigation plans and take on the lion’s share of U.S. goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite inaction from global leaders, the People’s Climate activities were noteworthy. But what happens next matters even more. Frontline communities in the U.S. and around the world are struggling every day to survive this climate crisis and are organizing around community solutions to climate change.

They are prioritizing community-led projects and local infrastructure that can create jobs and put their communities back to work, particularly in the areas of zero waste; regional food systems; public transportation; clean community energy; efficient, affordable, and durable housing; and ecosystem restoration and stewardship.

GGJ members are also working with organized communities around the world to create a new climate agreement, written with collective input from civil society, to influence upcoming U.N. climate meetings in what we are calling the People’s Climate process.

Shaun (Sha) Grogan-Brown is the development and communications coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), a national alliance of over 56 U.S.-based grassroots organizing groups building power for poor and working families and communities of color in 20 states. GGJ is co-anchor of the national Our Power Campaign.


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