With more than 310,000 participants, including religious leaders from around the world, the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21 was the largest demonstration for climate action in history.
The march was timed to lead up to the United Nations Climate Summit at UN headquarters in New York on Sept. 23 and more than 2,800 solidarity events were held in 166 countries around the world.
“It was spectacular,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who was among those who marched in New York. He confessed that he and other religious leaders came late to the rally because they were at an interfaith conference, jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), a body that includes 345 churches representing about 560 million Christians worldwide, and Religions for Peace, an interfaith coalition with members in more than 70 countries. Thirty leaders from nine religions crafted a statement calling for concrete actions to curb carbon emissions.
That interfaith conference was “astonishing” in itself, said MacDonald, because of “the breadth of participation.” Interfaith leaders later joined the march and walked together.
“We were kind of the caboose…so we didn’t have the shazam of the whole thing,” MacDonald said, “which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an overwhelming, fantastic experience because you really had a sense that the ground was shifting in terms of climate change.” He noted the participation of corporations and governments in the event, mentioning the Rockefeller family’s announcement that they would divest from fossil fuels as an example of change in the corporate world. He added that at the beginning of the conference there weren’t a lot of religious organizations that had divested, but he sensed there “is a snowball kind of effect” of that movement growing.
Because many of the speakers had serious concerns about the prospects for the future, MacDonald said the march’s “dose of hopeful optimism was really helpful and necessary.”
MacDonald was also in New York to participate in a UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and he said he was encouraged that indigenous leaders played an important role in all of the climate change discussions. “At all of the events, the critical role of indigenous people in underlining the importance of the environment, but also in a spirituality and ethic of environmental care, was held up as a model that the world could not afford to lose,” he said.
Just prior to the event, four leaders of Anglican, Episcopal and Lutheran churches in Canada and the U.S. issued a joint pastoral message on climate change.
“We are united as Christian leaders in our concern for the well-being of our neighbours and of God’s good creation that provides life and livelihood for all God’s creatures,” began the message signed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church; Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The message encouraged people to unite and work together. “…[We] need not surrender to political ideologies and other modern mythologies that would divide us into partisan factions-deserving and undeserving, powerless victims and godless oppressors…In Christ God sets us free from the captivity of blaming and shaming. God liberates us for shared endeavours where we find each other at our best.”
The leaders urged people to act “imaginatively and courageously” as individuals when making choices about energy use, carbon emissions, the consumption of water and other natural resources, educating children and being a voice for the just and responsible use of resources.
And they encouraged collective actions and advocacy such as engaging “decision-makers in this godly work in all arenas of public life-in government and business, in schools and civic organizations, in social media and also in our church life.” Marches and demonstrations were also held simultaneously in cities across Canada, and Canadian Anglicans were among the crowds.
In Toronto, the Rev. Andrea Budgey, the University of Toronto chaplain based at Trinity College, was part of a crowd she estimated to be about 3,000. “One of the refreshing things about that march was that there were lots of people I don’t usually see” at environmental events, she said.
Budgey added that her clerical collar is “standard demo wear” because she thinks it is important for people who care about the environment to see that the church is there and this is “an issue that matters profoundly to Christians.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who convened the summit and also participated in the New York march, invited leaders from government, finance, business and civil society to “bring bold announcements and actions…that will their reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in Paris in 2015.”
-With files from ENS and Harvey Shepherd
Editor’s note: A correction has been made to the title of Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church.