On September 21, 2014, nearly 400,000 people took part in the People’s Climate March and Mobilization, winding their way from Central Park through Midtown Manhattan and ending with a block party celebration on the city’s mostly empty West Side (flooded during Sandy). Cleanly subdivided into six categories of political subjects—indigenous and environmental justice groups up front, a medieval combination of scientists and priests in the fifth, and finally “Here comes everybody! L.G.B.T.Q., N.Y.C. Boroughs, Community Groups, Neighborhoods, Cities, States, and more” in the sixth—the march called on the United Nations Climate Summit and governments around the world to steer a course towards appropriate “climate action” and “climate justice” on behalf of the groups neatly represented like meats and cheeses on a Hormel party tray. The following day, former anti-globalization and Occupy Wall Street activists, many on the payroll of this or that N.G.O., attempted a mass civil disobedience action on the blocks leading to the New York Stock Exchange. When the orchestrated non-violence of Flood Wall Street met the orchestrated non-brutality of the NYPD, ne’er an arrest occurred and the organizers called it all off, going home and turning the streets over to a few hundred unofficial protesters who were determined to be peacefully taken into custody.
As the United Nations met later that week to talk about talking about limiting global temperature rise to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) through a reduction in carbon emissions while simultaneously making economies, cities, and networks resilient, the People’s Climate Summit website released its own numbers: 400,000 people, 1,574 organizations, 50,000 college students, 5,200 articles, and 7 celebrity selfies. Homemade and mass-produced signs, puppets and inflatables, polar bear costumes and globes, thousands of buses whose bills were footed by non-profits and Gofundme.com, a pony-tailed Leo DiCaprio parading around as the U.N.’s Messenger for Peace, with a special focus on climate change issues. A success, they say, in launching the climate justice movement, a success as quantifiable as the parts per million of the upper safety limit for the atmosphere. As the march quickly faded into most New Yorkers’ memories, as when a million of us marched against the war that happened anyway, a variety of non-questions circulated to try to cement the march’s legacy. Was it too radical? Not radical enough? Too little too late? A photo-op? A corporate greenwash with the help of the “non-profit industrial complex”? 1 Non-questions for a non-world. Simply put, the Climate March was a blast from the past, mobilizing a set of political techniques and priorities that have literally been left behind by reality, by the new common in which we find ourselves.
A new epoch is certainly at hand; one need only trace the fault lines from the glacial barricades of Kiev’s Maidan across the radioactive swamp left by Fukushima’s failing ice wall to the “Winter is Coming” graffiti of Istanbul’s Gezi commune. Everywhere this age speaks its exhaustion, in the massive human efforts to break through and in the falling of idols. The once coherent subject around which the world was ordered stands in ruin as a neurotic information node whose closest relationship is with a cellphone or iPad. The claims to mastery over the world are being literally washed away by rising seas, while terminal diagnoses of our civilization proliferate as quickly as fantasies of the end (see the Walking Dead’s Terminus). As Brad Evans and Julien Reid describe it in their book Resilient Life, “We are living out the final scenes of the liberal nightmare in all its catastrophic permutations,” an epoch that is sensed just as much in the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet2 and the bamboo barricades of Hong Kong as in the desertification of the Amazon rainforest and the death vows of the Lakota in the face of the KeystoneXL pipeline.3 Some people say the world is ending, but we say it is just a way of life, a certain order of things.