Recently I joined local Sierra Club members and others from Buffalo on a trip to Washington, D.C., to rally for government policies that finally begin to address climate change. We rode all night in chartered buses to our nation’s capital. There, we met 40,000 people from across the United States and other countries to hear inspirational speakers and to march from the Washington Monument to the White House to deliver our message to President Obama.
Obama has promised climate action and will soon decide to either approve or reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Climate experts, like NASA’s Jim Hansen, have joined environmental leaders, like Bill McKibben of 350.org, to warn that Keystone would be disastrous for the environment. Extracting and burning oil from Canadian tar sands will release massive amounts of greenhouse gases. So we marched to encourage the president to say no to Keystone and yes to much cleaner ways of meeting energy needs – conservation, efficiency and green renewable energy.
We weren’t just “speaking truth to power.” We were speaking the most consequential environmental truth to the most powerful government on the planet, and I needed to be there.
Like most people who care about the environment, I try to make a difference. Over the years I’ve written and phoned my representatives, volunteered for green candidates and given talks to community groups. While we are hardly perfect, my family and I have tried to “walk the walk” with lifestyle choices that reflect environmental concern. Our latest choice is a bright orange Prius, which not only adds needed color to the sea of gray cars on the road but gets as much as 60 miles per gallon around town. Better fuel economy reduces our carbon footprint, so it’s a step in the right direction.
But the increasing frequency of heat waves, droughts and severe storms has made me feel that nothing I’ve done is enough. That’s why I got on the bus. For me, democracy isn’t a spectator sport. Sometimes it requires sore feet and a hoarse voice. It was awe-inspiring and empowering to march with so many like-minded sisters and brothers. My sign said, “Please Help Stop Global Warming.” It featured a stop sign and a polar bear – a species now threatened with extinction due to melting Arctic ice.
My good friend Sharon Levy carried a sign that said, “We’re All on Thin Ice.” Together we conveyed the message that although protecting animals is important, it’s not just about saving polar bears. We are all endangered, all connected and all affected. Quite a few of our fellow marchers liked our signs and took pictures. One of the photographers was an environmental lawyer from Argentina. He was thrilled to be at the largest climate rally in U.S. history.
So much wonderful diversity surrounded us – Franciscan and Buddhist monks, parents with babies in strollers, college students, senior citizens. A young man danced beautifully. He stopped only to proclaim the reduced carbon and methane emissions benefit of vegetarianism, a diet I share.
I’ve cared about many social issues. But for me the climate crisis is the most important and urgent. I agree with author Alice Walker when she says, “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” But time is running out on the climate crisis. Deep in my heart, I know our rent is overdue.