In 1970, tens of millions of Americans rose up in protest against the industrial pollution that was degrading the nation's environment. They took to the streets, they organized demonstrations, they called on the government to instate protections, they out-and-out raged. The catalyst for that incredible outpouring of pro-environment sentiment? One relatively tiny oil spill, one polluted river, and the realization that DDT was dangerous.
Seems almost quaint now, right? I mean, today we’re staring down the barrel of total global climatic transformation, so vast and disruptive that literally billions of people are going to be fucked. This shit is almost comically biblical—droughts, rising seas, a melting Arctic, acid oceans, floods. It's easily the nastiest natural phenomenon we humanfolk have ever faced down, and the United States is the largest historic contributor to it. It could, feasibly, be enough to make a few people angry.
So where’s the mass public outrage? Not here. The biggest demonstrations convened to protest climate change-causing practices were held over just the last few years. A number of student demonstrations have cropped up on campuses. Then came the Keystone protests. The largest to date has drawn perhaps 10,000 people, and that was an anti-Keystone XL protest held during apex of the Occupy moment, in Washington D.C. So either the movement is gaining organic momentum, or green groups are finally getting better at turning out participants.
Case in point: this weekend, Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club, 350,org, and other green leaders will convene “the largest climate rally in U.S. history,” on the doorstep of the White House. Some 30,000 people are expected to show up starting at noon on February 17th.
It comes on the heels of another recent protest, where McKibben, Michael Brune (Sierra Club’s executive director), climate scientist James Hansen, and actress Daryl Hannah were all arrested at the same spot, calling for more action to curb carbon emissions.
It’s nice that the attendance of such events is growing, and that events like McKibben’s fossil fuel divestment tour has proved rather popular and successful. But it still seems that the big ugly spark is still missing—whatever it was that tipped the needle and made standing up against industrial pollution a cause célèbre in the OG Earth Day era, whatever it is that might get under our skin, punch us in the guts, make us want to rabble-rouse on behalf of preserving a livable climate for the humans of the future; it’s not there yet. Maybe it’s closer; this is allegedly going to be the largest climate rally yet, after all. Maybe at one of these growing rallies, or stemming from an idea picked up at one of them, that spark will be struck. Because no one attending this climate rally on Sunday will hope that this stays the biggest climate protest in U.S. history for long.