As the earth turns around this weekend and those small but crucial lights come on in an inner city that had been partially shrouded in darkness for years, there will be many New York donors to the nonprofit Global Green who will be watching closely. What is happening in Alberta, Canada, with Canada’s climate change agreement, and what is happening at the United Nations climate conference in Cancun are both signs of a major development to happen, and could set the course for climate solutions. If the two are linked, you could call this their crucial first step.
It has been a long time since the late Al Gore made a big speech at Central Park, on early spring weather for his role as an environmentalist, saying, “It’s so much easier to say than to do.” I don’t know if Mr. Gore would have understood what was coming at him Friday in the Old Bailey Courtroom at Parliament when Tom Stalker, founder of one of the most important climate change organizations in the world — Global Green USA — told the stories of those young people from as far away as Maine, Colorado and Louisiana who walked from all over the country, after already suffering pain, upheaval and displacement in other ways, to make that speech on climate change: “This is my soul, this is my future, this is my future.”
The faces of the crowd, including a boy from Puerto Rico with a hole in his leg from a hurricane — despite this summer’s news that the powerful interests that do not want climate solutions do not want them — moved young Mark Wilbur, who stood next to my wife and me among the audience. He found himself in tears. This is a new point of departure for the global, grassroots-based movements that are beginning to transform policy to address climate change. Its history is surprisingly young in many ways. But what we have seen in Spain, Brazil, Rwanda, Germany, and Canada is a phenomenon of global proportions.
Mr. Stalker has been deeply impacted by these young people. In fact, in many ways his connections to them helped to lay the groundwork for these climate solutions in places where he had previously not felt strong. I too have been deeply moved by the resilience of people facing displacement for the sake of environmental good. Still I was reminded that all of this is a big job. It takes millions and millions of small efforts, by millions of people to change the whole system and atmosphere.
Just as important are those in the highest office in the land. Mr. Stalker wanted the president to know about the work of young people, the need for serious public policy and the power that they have. His message was clear: global leaders need to hear them out. But as the president continues to lead efforts to undermine the climate agreement, that conversation is a pipe dream. Mr. Trump needs to know — and just as important, those responsible need to tell him — that the American people’s trust in government has collapsed in the wake of the massive conflicts of interest and crime that have been exposed and the disillusionment of the electorate.
Yet there is so much still up for discussion. A significant new report from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, The City’s Place on the Earth, contains important recommendations for reducing carbon emissions in cities. Canada’s government has committed to meeting its commitment to cut emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, but that remains to be seen. Perhaps the government and public will listen to the Mayor of Montreal and other Canadian cities who recognize that the economy needs to grow with the climate challenge, not destructively, as some special interests prefer.
President Trump is still in power. But if there is a lesson from the success of this weekend’s climate promises — and those of hundreds of thousands of other thousands of people before them and after — is that we as a society can transform even a self-centered world if we work together, and we care enough about our future to lead the way. If we can, this is our time.