Did all that litter really undermine the People’s Climate March?

We’re coming up (tomorrow) on the two month anniversary of the People’s Climate March, which was the largest climate gathering in history, and which has been credited by some (OK, by one of its organizers) as laying the groundwork for the recent landmark agreement between China and the United States.

But the parade also left behind another legacy: the need for mountain-trash removal. Predictably, cynics (and some with more nefarious intentions) penned headlines that screamed “People’s Climate March Leaves Trail Of Trash” and gleefully linked to tweets depicting — and commenting on — the mess left behind, like so:

This all makes for good headlines, and helpfully reassures the public that climate change activist hippies are really just capitalist hypocrites at heart, but only if you don’t bother to think.  I don’t want to spend too long rehashing old news, so I’ll keep this short:

  1. The People’s Climate March attracted the participation of over 1,500 different groups. As note by Grist, they had one thing in common: “From a U.S. “Cowboys and Indians” contingent protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, to Latin Americans up from countries like Bolivia and El Salvador protesting deforestation and fossil fuel exploration on their lands, to Indonesians fearing their islands will sink under water, to residents of New York’s own most disadvantaged neighborhoods and some of its affluent waterfront suburbs, they were all people who have a personal stake in averting catastrophic global warming.” Climate change is not a hippie issue, it’s a people issue,* and it’s entirely legitimate to feel and express concern over the issue even if you do not feel strongly about a litany of other environmental concerns. Pretending that climate change is the special interest of a monolithic cabal is both inaccurate and unhelpful.
  2. Even if every marcher was properly concerned with the effects of their litter — and personal consumption choices — the People’s Climate March was decidedly, and rightly, not focused on individual responsibility. Sure, there are things you can do, as an individual, to lighten your personal footprint on the planet, but the whole point of the protest is that those actions will never add up to enough. We need concentrated, comprehensive action on a political level, in the international arena, to solve a planet-wide crisis. No one can solve global warming alone. No 400,000 people can solve global warming alone. No country can solve global warming alone. Sure, it would be nice if all those attendees had taken more personal responsibility, but suggesting that the litter undermines the message betrays a profound lack of understanding about what the People’s Climate March was really trying to accomplish.
  3. Most importantly, the March took place in New York. Does it really hurt the environment to litter in New York?

*This statement in no way meant to imply hippies are not people, too.

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