The People’s Climate March Says No More Dirty Energy

Zachary Hurwitz
The People's Climate March ushers thousands of people through New York City.
The People's Climate March ushers thousands of people through New York City.
Photo: M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

It’s not often we get to use the phrase “thousands upon thousands” in the environmental movement, except for, perhaps, a few situations. There are the bad ones, such as when thousands upon thousands of people are displaced by a destructive dam.

And then there are the good examples, such as today, when thousands upon thousands – and still thousands upon thousands upon thousands more – made history by marching in the largest-ever mobilization to call for a solution to climate change.

The People’s Climate March drew an estimated 400,000 people from across the country and world in New York City, sending a loud signal to national leaders who will convene this week at the United Nations to discuss climate change. A multitude of voices from frontline affected communities, indigenous people, labor unions, scientists, environmentalists, teachers, and others descended en masse throughout midtown; and so did bankers, politicians, celebrities, and others who sought to ally with the call to action.

With the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels nearing 400 parts per million, well above what experts consider safe or healthy, we can’t afford to allow any more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. While there are many sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the energy sector continues to be one of the most stubborn climate polluters. 

Many point to the damaging emissions from fossil fuels, but destructive dams are also part of the problem. Human-made reservoirs that store water for hydropower, irrigation, and other uses can create artificial, stagnant wetlands. Vegetation flooded by these reservoirs can rot and produce methane gas, which can bubble into the atmosphere from a dam’s reservoir, turbines and spillway. Reservoirs can also reduce forested areas that are useful in absorbing carbon dioxide, and can block the transport of sediments that provide crucial nutrients for healthy farmland, estuaries, and oceans.

The People's Climate March called for No Dirty Energy in the Green Climate Fund.
The People's Climate March called for No Dirty Energy in the Green Climate Fund.
Photo by International Rivers

It isn't a solution to just trade one kind of emissions, or one kind of dirty energy, for another. That’s why the People’s Climate March is calling for “No More Dirty Energy” across the board – no more fossil fuels, no more destructive dams, no more dirty nuclear, no more dirty bioenergy, no more dirty waste incineration – flatly put, no more dirty energy of any kind.

But many governments and private sector actors have yet to heed the call. Dams are being portrayed as a low-cost option for greenhouse gas mitigation and sustainable development. They are being heavily promoted for the undercapitalized Green Climate Fund, the goal of which is to channel finance from developed to developing countries to pay for climate mitigation and adaptation. The Fund seeks nothing less than a paradigm shift: from today’s dirty energy economy to one that is low-emissions and climate-resilient.

Indeed, governments are planning thousands upon thousands of dams across the world (there's that phrase again) for hydropower, irrigation, and other uses. Can you imagine the amount of methane that even a small percentage of those reservoirs might release? Can you imagine the thousands upon thousands of people that could be displaced?

It makes no sense for a fund that is meant to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas pollution to support any form of dirty energy. That’s why the Green Climate Fund needs an exclusion list to prevent climate polluters from building dirty energy projects under the guise of climate finance.

Today’s People’s Climate March will be remembered throughout history as the loudest, clearest public exhortation that governments must take action to stop climate change. One big way to do this is to capitalize the Green Climate Fund. But the fund must not support projects that continue to emit GHGs under the pretense of being “green.” The world needs more than that – it needs to be free of dirty energy.

We'll say it again and again – thousands upon thousands of times – until governments get it right.

Sunday, September 21, 2014