A little over a week ago we took part in the biggest grassroots mobilization around climate change the world has yet seen. As international leaders began to gather in New York City for UN climate talks, 311, 000 people took to the streets of Manhattan to demonstrate their visions for a better world- three times the number forecast by the event organizers, 350.org.
The march was organized into six massive contingents arranged so as to tell the story of the impacts of climate change, from the front-line indigenous communities and Hurricane Sandy victims at the vanguard, through the youth organizations, energy innovators, corporate whistleblowers, and climate scientists all the way to the neighbourhood, regional, and national civil society institutions bringing up the rear. The marchers filled the entire 2.2 mile route before those at the back had even left the starting point.
Meanwhile, alongside more than 2000 solidarity actions in 166 countries, two hundred of us marched with signs and banners from Waterloo Town Square to the nearby Barrelyard Park. I was among the guest speakers who presented there, and my speech borrowed language and imagery from the Mennonite peace tradition I was raised in. Each of us, I said, has been born into a war we did not start and which we do not wish to continue waging: a war against nature. In our lifetimes, nature is responding to the violence of our carbon burning with the violence of climate change, and it’s becoming apparent that she means to win. Our hope as I see it is in a worldwide movement toward peace, disarmament, and reconciliation.
In the days that followed, I wrote a longer reflection on my personal blog, considering the different images we’re presented with when we march or demonstrate in support of climate change action. One that I find troubling is that of the earth viewed from space, or the Blue Dot, as David Suzuki’s taken to calling it. While it may be a moving image to some, I don’t find strength or meaning in a viewpoint that neither I nor anyone I know will ever experience- that is, outer space. Aliens might find our ‘blue dot’ beautiful and serene, but I feel much more at home with trees, riverbanks, clifftop views, or the wind in the grass.
On the Sunday of the march, a number of people visiting our KW Forest School display table after the speeches spoke of their own childhood memories playing in nature. It’s those kinds of memories that I draw on myself when I march or speak publicly about nature and our role in it, and it’s those kinds of memories that I want to give to the children I know. While ‘saving the Earth’ sounds great in theory, it’s going to take a much more personal connection with nature to build the peace on earth that we want and need.