An absolutely massive crowd of multicultural, multigenerational climate activists took over Manhattan on Sunday. They called for President Joe Biden to put an end to fossil fuels, oil and gas usage, and pipeline expansion ahead of the United Nations (UN) Climate Ambition Summit. 

From wildfires in Canada and Hawaii, massive flooding in Europe, Brazil, and China, ever-present hurricanes and tropical storms, and overall hotter temperatures—it’s globally accepted that the effects of climate change have become more and more apparent since the 1800s, driven by “human activities” like burning coal, oil, and gas.

So when the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres promised action at a planned summit this September in New York City, groups from all over the country joined in for support. People traveled as far as Alaska to attend the march, said organizers. 

Some marchers chose to express their activism in traditional Native American headgear while others created elaborate art and giant posters to wave as they clamored through the streets with colorful jubilee. The march was 1.3 miles long, beginning at 59th Street (Columbus Circle) and ending at 51st Street and 1st Avenue—near U.N. Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. 

The demonstration was organized by a huge coalition of organizations, including Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Organizing Hub, Food & Water Watch, Fridays For Future US, Earthworks, Greenfaith, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, and Oil and Gas Action Network. The coalition also included local groups, like New York Communities for Change, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Make the Road.

A few of New York City’s elected officials, and even celebrities like presidential hopeful Dr. Cornel West, were spotted among the throng of people.

“Biden needs to declare a climate emergency, but also New York and the United States needs to step up our game in fighting against an existential threat,” said Senator Jabari Brisport at the march with a drum in hand.

Brisport said that the state needs to “aggressively” build more renewable energy resources in the public sector in order to meet climate goals. He was proud of his work helping pass the New York State Build Public Renewables Act, which requires the state power authority to provide only renewable energy and power to customers.

Above all, there were scores of dedicated middle school, high school, and college students from all over New York state in attendance.

“Climate justice is something that impacts everybody, especially low-income communities, marginalized communities, African American communities,” said 17-year-old Justin, a student with Keepers of the Dream Westchester group. “When climate change strikes, they don’t have the money to just move to other places as the rich do. So it’s important to me as a human, as an African American, and a marginalized person.”

At the end of the day, without meaningful policies, funding, and political will not much will move the needle on climate change. But the city and state has made some progress.

Damien Andrade is the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) Board of Directors Chair and a CUNY Brooklyn College student. Andrade mentioned local policies like NYC Local Law 97 for sustainable buildings, the state-level Climate Change Superfund Act, and the NY HEAT Act. He believes these policies will reduce climate emissions, save people money, create good, green jobs, and make sure that corporate climate polluters are “on the hook to foot the bill.”

“As college students, we will bear the worst effects of climate change throughout the rest of our lives. We have spoken with thousands of our classmates here in New York since the fall semester began, and the message is loud and clear: President Biden must declare a climate emergency and end the fossil fuel industry’s chokehold on our futures,” said Andrade.

The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) recently completed a new research report analyzing state climate justice policies for disadvantaged communities—as defined by the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) as low-income and communities of color that disproportionately share environmental burdens. Under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) the state aims to drastically reduce carbon emissions by 2050, have at least 70% renewable energy by 2030, and a zero-emissions electricity sector by 2040. A large part of the CLCPA’s goal, designed by the Climate Action Council, also prioritizes investment funds for these vulnerable communities.

At the moment, the CLCPA is largely in the “complicated” planning and implementation stage while building on existing policies, said Alan Krupnick, senior fellow and director of Resources for the Future’s industries and fuels program. 

Krupnick said that the CLCPA plans could be more “stringent” and better “targeted” to disadvantaged communities. NYC-EJA’s version of the state’s plans modeled impactful policies in residential, transportation, and energy sectors. The report suggested things like eliminating peaker plants statewide, subsidies for heat pumps, higher price on carbon, and a stricter phase out of fossil fuels. He said there’s been support and cooperation from the state in regards to their findings.

“At the state level there are a number of individuals and teams within the state agencies that really want to see the CLCPA implemented in the way that communities want to see it. They want to see the most vulnerable groups be the most protected, [and] emissions decrease; they do support that,” said NYC-EJA Research Analyst Victoria Sanders. “However, those individuals and teams don’t have all the power and all of the say in what ends up actually occurring.”

Sanders said they are “hopeful but cautious” in believing that the CLCPA will come to fruition as intended. 
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.