On the day of the People’s Climate March, Alessandro Bava and I ended up by accident at the beginning of the march (“Frontlines of Crisis, Forefront of Change”) when it arrived in Times Square. We blended in with the crush of reporters and photographers just ahead of the protesters and waited in silence until the horns, bells, whistles, and shouts of Manhattan sounded the metaphorical alarm on the condition of the global climate (around 1pm). After that, the March moved forward—and we moved with it—from 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue down to Chelsea for a block party. On our way, we trend-spotted.
Street-style at a march to save the world consists mostly of your basic greens (excepting the numerous outfits worn by indigenous peoples who marched) and, in this protest, sunflowers incorporated into outfits in every possible way. For my part, I was most interested in the accessories: signs (well-documented on Alex Mackin Dolan’s Instagram), jewelry, masks (Guy Fawkes, everywhere), and cameras. One guy, walking around with a large gimbal as though it were a sign itself, struck me as particularly representative of the look of the afternoon, which I’d say was defined by everyone’s desire to take a pic of themselves moving along toward the block party that concluded the muggy day.
While the rhetoric of the protestors and their signs ranged from the rights of indigenous peoples to worldwide water rights, I was struck most by the frequency of signs referring to the cause as one to “save the planet for our grandchildren” or some variation on that. The particular invocation of a right to a planet to reproduce on has been, of course, complicated by the fact that the dire situation the planet now faces is due directly to how thoroughly we have exceeded the climate’s sustainable threshold with all those grandchildren. I wanted to see a sign that said “STOP EVERYTHING NOW,” but as we moved forward at the recommendation of the March’s legal advisors, I saw no such sign. Mostly I saw crisis rhetorics borrowed from other crisis rhetorics: “Climate change is a health crisis.”
And it is. In her new book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert argues bleakly that we are, more or less, too late to save the patient. While we can slow down the climactic processes leading to a planet hospitable only to the narrowest bandwidth of organisms (mostly jellyfish and probably rats), the world we fear most is the one we will have. Noting that plastic had entered parts of the biosphere as a useful tool for growth, George Carlin once joked that the earth probably created us because it wanted plastic—and that now that it had enough, it could dispose of us. It’s a weird joke, but one that, to some scientists, is quasi-accurate in that perhaps we are exemplary only insofar as we are the reset button for a planet that has repeatedly reset itself.