Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in New York City on Sunday to kick off a week of climate action, with the central message being the urgent need to end fossil fuels as a primary contributor to climate change. Chanting that the future and their lives are at stake, the protesters directed their pleas towards leaders who are meeting to address the climate crisis, singling out U.S. President Joe Biden for criticism.
Amidst the crowd was 17-year-old Emma Buretta from Brooklyn, representing the youth protest group Fridays for Future. She emphasized the power of the people and urged President Biden to halt the approval of new oil and gas projects, phase out existing ones, and declare a climate emergency with expanded executive authority.
The March to End Fossil Fuels featured prominent figures such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actors Susan Sarandon, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Kyra Sedgewick, and Kevin Bacon. However, the heart of the action was on the streets, where protesters, concerned about the future, called for immediate climate action. This event marked the beginning of New York’s Climate Week, a gathering of global leaders from business, politics, and the arts, culminating in a special United Nations summit on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, many of the world’s leading carbon emitters were absent from the United Nations meeting, and only nations pledging concrete climate actions were invited to speak. Organizers estimated that 75,000 individuals participated in Sunday’s march.
Among the participants was 8-year-old Athena Wilson from Boca Raton, Florida, who flew to New York with her mother Maleah solely for the protest, driven by their shared concern for the planet.
Alexandria Gordon, a 23-year-old originally from Houston, stressed that many in regions closely tied to the oil industry and in the global south have felt unheard and frustrated by the lack of climate action.
Organizers expressed their disappointment with President Biden, whom many of them supported in the 2020 election, due to his administration’s continued support for fossil fuel extraction. Environmental activist Sharon Lavigne from Louisiana urged the President to take action, stating, “Our lives depend on your actions today.”
Environmental activists pointed out that nearly one-third of planned oil and gas drilling worldwide between now and 2050 is attributed to U.S. interests. While the United States has historically contributed the most carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the past century, China now surpasses it in annual carbon emissions.
Jean Su, an organizer of the march and energy justice director for the Center for Biological Diversity, emphasized the necessity of phasing out fossil fuels for the sake of the planet’s survival.
Speakers at the event highlighted the increasing sense of urgency and fear about the future. Actress V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, premiered the anthem “Panic” from her forthcoming climate change-oriented musical.
This march, unlike previous ones, had a more pronounced sense of urgency and frustration, according to Anna Fels, a New Yorker who has been participating in protests since the Vietnam War. It was notably focused on the need to end fossil fuel usage, with signs reading “Fossil fuels are killing us,” “I want a fossil-free future,” and “keep it in the ground.”
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate pointed out that world leaders are avoiding acknowledging the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis. She said, “The elephant in the room is that fossil fuels are responsible for the crisis. We can’t eat coal. We can’t drink oil, and we can’t have any new fossil fuel investments.”
However, representatives from the oil and gas industry argued that their products are essential for the economy and that eliminating them would lead to increased costs and energy instability. Megan Bloomgren, Senior Vice President of the American Petroleum Institute, emphasized the need to confront climate change urgently but advocated for maintaining energy options.