People’s Climate March: The Face of True Belief

Published September 22, 2014

People’s Climate March: The Face of True Belief

I liked everybody I met at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, two days before the UN climate change summit. I mean it. I liked them so much I hate what I have to write about them.

I liked the group that wore real cabbages for headpieces, some of which had cabbage horns. I liked the anarchists from West Virginia University who were sure the capitalist system, which allowed them to go to school and come to this march, had failed. I liked the old lady from Miami who flirted with me and told me to be nice in what I wrote, “Or I will find you.” Everybody liked the healthy topless woman with ‘mariposa’ stickers on her pertinents.

I liked the guy who said he had home-built his own electric car capable of traveling at 100 MPH for 100 miles, built from lithium batteries scavenged, somehow, from Chinese submarines. I liked the Sikh who darted out from under his “Sikhs 4 Climate Justice” sign to flirt industriously, but in vain, with a pretty Polish girl in a revealing red dress, and who, while managing to get his picture with her, said, “In future, we’ll be able to tell people this is when we first met.”

I liked the young lady ( who said she had played in orchestras for major movies and who gave me her CD, Plastic Bag (one song features what sounds like one being opened), and who very sweetly asked whether I would like to cover her musical career.

Remarkably, I saw separately (and without foreknowledge) three of my former students, all of whom I liked—and still like.

I even liked the young man from Deep Green Resistance ( who advocated (but vaguely promised not to participate in, though he said he would support it wholeheartedly), “industrial sabotage” and other forms of “militant action” against “nodes” that when taken out would set off “chain-reaction events” to destroy the country.

I liked that absolutely everybody was sincere, absolutely everybody was concerned, and absolutely everybody was kind, open, and eager to talk. It was a party, and people were of good cheer. I enjoyed myself.

Army of Believers

Absolutely everybody believed. They believed a lot of things. Everybody believed that the world was in deep kimchee, and they believed it was far past the time to do anything about it, and thus they believed something should be done now. Namely eliminate capitalism, which everybody disliked. Everybody believed all the Arctic ice was melting, or already had melted, and everybody believed climate change was already killing people—30,000 a year murdered by climate change was the figure often repeated.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Many carried signs stating what they believed. “CO2 dumping is morally wrong,” “Fracking = Death,” “Promote gender equality and empower women,” “Combat HIV/AIDS Malaria and Other Diseases,” “Limit Temperature Increase by 1.5 Degrees,” “Free Tibet. Save the 3rd Pole.” A mother pushing a stroller had a sign that said, “Do you have Feelings about climate change? Let’s Talk.” A group boasted, “We can end climate change.” Climate change could be stopped? Another group thought so and chanted they had to power to stop it.

A man carried a sign stating, “From Gaza to Detroit, clean drinking water is a right.” A lady had “If you like drinking water, stop ozone slaughter.” Another: “1 child per family. (Or adopt) (Domestically).” The word “domestically” was added as an afterthought, a caret in between “or” and “adopt.” A young lady had “We have a right to snow and ice,” sign. One young man wore a t-shirt stating, “Ask me, I’m the expert on the solution.” I asked him what the solution was. He only giggled.

More: “Carbon DIEoxide” and “End CO2lonization” indulged in puns. More than one marcher wore, unsurprisingly, an “Ithaca Is Gorgeous” t-shirt. Another had a t-shirt advising, in all capitals, “DISOBEY.” I asked if I should disobey his shirt, but if I did, I further asked, wouldn’t that make me an obeyer? He looked puzzled, thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “Yes it would.” He kept marching.

A set of marchers carried a sign exhorting, “Climate Change is real. Teach Science.” I asked one holder, “Don’t all teachers teach about global warming? Do you know any who aren’t?” This made him pause. He said, “Oh, I just got the sign today. It’s probably happening, though. Some teachers don’t want to teach about evolution.”

Puppets on Parade

There were puppets, too. The largest was meant to represent Mother Nature, I was told, but it looked more like one of those frowsy, fiftyish women in muumuus who are always holding a bottle as the gumshoe grills them in a 1940s film noir. Another crew held aloft a stretchy, block-long shiny silver tube, at the end of which were hanging objects that looked like the dreadlocks from the Predator in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. A smiling young woman told me it represented a mop. “Domestic workers are cleaning up climate change,” she told me.

A group of about a dozen marchers wielded giant white paper birds on sticks, all “soaring” above a paper maché nest, which was pulled along separately. I couldn’t stop anybody long enough to discover its meaning. Some befeathered native shamans capered about a paper maché god. I was told they were offering it prayers. It was a popular display because the shamans were dressed in loincloths and dancing as a drum beat out a repetitive tune.

Interfaith March

On the south side of the park, not too far from Columbus Circle, on a grassy knoll just at the park’s edge, sat about forty yoga people. They all crouched in that cross-legged with pinched-fingers, hands-on-their-knees pose. They had a sign which read “Earth Vigil.” Now I don’t want to detract from these earnest, young, almost exclusively white people, who were obviously dedicated to their cause. But more than a few were opening their eyes to peek at the crowds and smiling.

The crowd in the parade went nuts over the yoga people. Every marching contingent came to the edge of the police fence to take snapshots. (There were vastly more marchers than spectators). One lady shouted happily, “Oh look! They’re meditating!”

The Hare Krishnas who Hare-Krishna’d by looked down their noses at the yoga people.

A young man came up to me while I was observing this and said he was happy the parade was interfaith. He was excited about interfaith, and he told me Buddhism “is very sex positive, unlike Christianity” and that a lot of people came to Buddhist meetings “to meet girls.” He attended all the good marches, he said, including Occupy Wall Street. To pass the time, he took out his soccer ball and bounced it on his knee.

Just about that time, some women’s religious groups passed by, all coiffed in regulation Leadership Conference of Women Religious style, carrying signs demanding justice. I asked one sister what justice meant. She wasn’t sure, and neither was her sign-mate, but she told me to talk to the sister in charge, who, they said, might confirm “justice” meant “acting in harmony with all creation.”

The sister in charge didn’t say that, instead lamenting it was difficult to attend marches like this because they had to raise their own funds, “which is now harder, since we’re all getting older.” Asked whether they had any new recruits, she said “only twenty-five” from all over America (or maybe it was the Americas). None of the sisters mentioned Jesus or anything like that.

Lack of Curiosity

It might not seem like it, but the two confused sign-carrying sisters were one of two keys to the parade. Your reporter lost count of the number of times he asked somebody what the poster they were carrying meant, or asked why they had come, and they couldn’t answer except to point and say something like, “You should ask her. I don’t really know too much about it. I just came with my friends.”

This lack of curiosity was especially common among the union marchers, who always like a public event, anything to further their cause. The people wanted to like what their friends and colleagues liked, and to be friendly, they joined in on the fun. Union members thought their appearance would somehow help increase jobs and pay, and the regular people felt it was an excuse to have a good time. It’s not that all these folks didn’t believe in “the cause,” but that they couldn’t or didn’t want to articulate it. Marching was just the thing to do.

The second and larger key was more depressing, best illustrated by the group representing Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group which had initially been against nuclear weapons, they being a “public health threat,” but as that threat dwindled and the docs were unwilling to disband, a job well done, they cast their eye toward global warming and found a new worry.

This was a group of scientists, so surely they would understand how science worked. I asked them how they answered critics who showed global temperatures for the last eighteen or so years bounced around a little but showed no increase. Didn’t that mean global warming wasn’t true?

“It’s a temporary blip” said one. Another said, “A lot of the heat is in the ocean.” I reminded this doctor the global climate models claimed to incorporate ocean circulation, and so if the models the IPCC relied on missed saying the heat was in the oceans, the models must be wrong. So why did he still believe? He considered but didn’t answer.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Science!

I then asked him, as I asked many people during the parade, “Actually, for more than two decades, the models have been saying the temperatures would be way up here, but they haven’t increased at all, or only by a little. Doesn’t this mean we shouldn’t believe the models? That they are in error? Isn’t that the scientific way?” The spokes-doctor narrowed his eyes, now full of suspicion, concentrated on chewing his gum, and apparently wondered who I might be. He said nothing, even after a follow-up question. I thanked him and left.

I never received from anybody an answer to any of these science questions. If anybody ever understood me, and most clearly did not, the questions were beside the point. It didn’t matter what the science really said. These people believed!

Briggs is an Adjunct Professor of Statistics at Cornell University, where he acquired both an M.S. in Atmospheric Science and a Ph.D. in Statistics. He works as a consultant with specialities in medicine, the environment, and the philosophy of, and over-certainty in, science. He can be reached at