Over 75,000 people marched down 54th street in Manhattan to bring attention to the climate crisis on Sept. 17. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

This past Sunday, around 75,000 people from over 700 organizations gathered in Midtown Manhattan at the intersection of Broadway and 53rd Street to raise their voices for the most important global issue of our time — the climate crisis. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, had some stern words to offer in support of the End Fossil Fuels March.

“We cannot afford the same old broken record of scapegoating and waiting for others to move first,” he said in an official statement released by the U.N., “And to all those working, marching and championing real climate action, I want you to know: You are on the right side of history.”

The atmosphere was one of both joy and anguish for the number of people who had gathered with a single-minded determination to make their voices heard, especially a large contingent from the First Nations, and anguish for all the people suffering on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

A representative group from the First Nations started the march with an invocation to the earth and sky.

The march began with an invocation by Indigenous people and prayers offered by representatives from many major religions, all making humble entreaties to save the planet that sustains us all. This was followed by speeches given by a range of speakers, from high school students to Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, as well as actor Susan Sarandon and Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. 

“We know that the African continent alone is historically responsible for less than 4% of the global emissions. We are not responsible for this crisis. And yet so many Africans are already suffering some of the most major impacts of climate change. We also know that countries like the United States is historically responsible for 29% of the global emissions. How can you compare that? 54 individual countries are responsible for less than 4%. This is unfair. This is wrong and this is unjust. When we say that we want climate justice. We’re not just talking about transitioning to solar panels. We are talking about leaving no one behind. We are talking about addressing the injustices that come with the climate crisis.” —Vanessa Nakata, the UNICEF Global Goodwill Ambassador and a worldwide climate justice activist from Uganda. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

As the thousands marched, shouted slogans, sang, danced, played drums and raised their signs and hands up high, there was a sense of coming together. Tashka Yawanawá, an Indigenous chief from the Brazilian Amazon, echoed this sentiment when he shared,  “I don’t feel we are disconnected. Whatever we do here affects the Amazon and whatever we do in the Amazon affects people here.” 

Tashka Yawanawá, the chief of the Yawanawá people from the Brazilian Amazon, was one of the leaders at the front of the End Fossil Fuels March. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

While things seem bleak to many, we must remember that changes are afoot. A few days earlier, 400 climate scientists signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to address the current climate reality. “With the climate crisis raging all around us – in the form of fires, floods, hurricanes, drought, heat waves, crop failures, and more – we call on you directly, clearly, and unequivocally to stop enacting policies contrary to science and do what is needed to address the crisis,” they said in the letter.

A group from Uganda protesting the environmental policies of their longtime President Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

Students who have been at the forefront of pushing policy change in the global North recently found success when the New York University chapter of Sunrise managed to convince the university to divest from fossil fuels

There were moment of genuine connection in the midst of huge crowds at the End Fossil Fuels march on Sept. 17. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

Chief Yawanawá had a clear call to action for all those who live on our planet. “Indigenous people for innumerable times have worked and sacrificed their lives to maintain the integrity of the environment,” he said, “But today, it’s not just indigenous people but each and every one of us to engage in this cause to preserve our mother. Everybody is vulnerable to the climate crisis.” 

“What we need to do is understand that there is a lot of money supporting, denying the science or messing up with the science and also prolonging the life of fossil fuels. And this money, about $4 billion a year, is stopping us from understanding fully how serious the situation is. And I like to say we’re actually on the cusp of a clean energy, healthier, fairer, safer world for all. We’re moving in that direction, but we’re not moving fast enough. It doesn’t seem to be too difficult to move faster. But we need leaders to take things seriously if we are in a crisis. And when you’re in a crisis, you have to be in crisis mode to deal with it. Our house is burning. ” — Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: Hari Adivarekar
“Please declare a climate emergency to halt oil exports and investors and fossil fuel projects abroad, as well as lead a just transition to a community-centered energy at home. Almost all of our aggressions worldwide were about oil. And war itself is one of the biggest polluters that you could possibly imagine. So we could end our dependence on fossil fuel and we would not feel the urge to completely invade so many countries that we have invaded. ” — Susan Sarandon. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

End Fossil Fuels has put forward a list of four demands to President Biden ahead of his re-election bid next year. 

1. Stop federal approvals for new fossil fuel projects and repeal permits for climate bombs like the Willow project and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

2. Phase out fossil fuel drilling  

3. Declare a climate emergency to halt fossil fuel exports and investments abroad, and turbo-charge the build-out of more just and resilient distributed energy (like rooftop and community solar).

Protesters chose novel ways to showcase their climate crisis beliefs. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

4. Provide a just transition to a renewable energy future* that generates millions of jobs while supporting workers’ and community rights, job security, and employment equity.

*our renewable energy future must not repeat the violence of the extractive past. Justice must ground the transition off fossil fuels to redress the climate, colonialist, racist, socioeconomic, and ecological injustices of the fossil fuel era. 

Want to help? Sign this petition to President Biden from End Fossil Fuels.

Hari Adivarekar is an independent photographer, film director/producer, journalist, podcaster, yoga practitioner, urban explorer, and in a different life, a singer in a rock and roll band. His work has...

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