by Thea Iberall~
I bought my bus ticket a month early because I knew I had to go to the second People’s Climate March. I remember the day the first one occurred. I was giving a workshop in California on ‘what’s your carbon footprint?’ I was telling my audience how we all have to stop living as if we had two or three planets at our disposal. Deep down, I wanted to be at the march.
This time I am, in Washington, DC. The motto of the march seems to be, ‘For everything to change, we need everyone.’ But not everyone I know is onboard: some people are more worried about exams at school or deadlines at their jobs; others are distracted as parents of young children; and some deny climate change is happening. I want to say, “If we stay on our unsustainable path, the environment is going to be a huge stressor on future lives. Don’t you care?” I stop myself because it isn’t polite. I chicken out and try not to rock the boat.
But it isn’t about being polite anymore, it isn’t about belief. My sister says she doesn’t believe in gravity. When I tell her she’s nuts, she says, “I guess it doesn’t matter if I believe in gravity or not. But when things fall to the ground, I am amazed.”
What is the lesson she is teaching me? Whether one believes it or not, climate change is real and it’s scary because if we don’t do something now, we will all be trampled to death by the storms, by the heat, by the drought, by the rising seas.
I am with marchers who have gathered at 3rd and Madison. These are the spiritual and religious groups—the keepers of the faith. We march behind the “Defenders of Truth” (the scientists and educators) and in front of the “Reshapers of Power” (anti-corporate and fossil fuel resistance). I am with activists from the Jewish Climate Action Network. We unfurl our 10-foot blue banner with its message “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” Lots of people take pictures of it.
It is above 90 degrees. As we walk, I meet people from all over the country, I am struck by how multi-generational the marchers are. There are kids, teens, young adults, elders. A woman with purple hair. A boy on a skateboard. A young woman on stilts. Everyone has signs. I talk to a woman from the EPA. She said she is having a positive experience at the EPA. Then she asks me what 350.org is. I’m shocked she doesn’t know, but this is the problem: we are all in our own worlds, focused on what we know, see, and care about. 350 is a number, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (350 parts per million). it is also a threshold that scientists believe is a dangerous one to cross. We are at 412 ppm now. The seas are rising. I recently read that there is a booming market for upscale multimillion dollar underground bunkers. Rich “climate change deniers” can have it both ways: get rid of regulations in order to make more money, while building a mansion of a bunker to live in when the environment hits the rails and when resource wars ramp up.
Someone hands me a ribbon and asks me to write down what I don’t want to lose due to climate change. I write, “I don’t want to lose my family and friends.”
At 2pm, we all sit down, wherever we are. Our little group is about three blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. After a moment of silence, the clapping began. Some people are making the heartbeat on their chests, others are clapping their hands. For 100 seconds, we keep it up. The silence of the White House looms over us. I think about the worst of Gandhi’s seven social sins: commerce without morality, politics without principles, wealth without work. Worship without sacrifice. It isn’t enough to march, it isn’t enough to pray. We must all change and let go of beliefs that support an unsustainable lifestyle. We must return to a true compass and work together. This is the heartbeat of a nation, this is the heartbeat of life, this is the heartbeat of a planet. We will be heard. Without that beat, there will be nothing but a dead planet.
Thea Iberall, PhD, is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network and the Green Sanctuary Committee of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Medfield, MA. She is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale, a novel about a 4,000-year-old secret brought through time by the birds. In this fable, she shows us that the visions of Gandhi, religious mysticism, and Native Americans are a more sustainable solution than the patriarchal system under which we live. Dr. Iberall is an inductee in the International Educators Hall of Fame.