On April 29, as part of the People’s Climate Movement, over 100,000 people will gather to march in Washington D.C. to demonstrate widespread and overwhelming support for immediate and drastic climate action. Participants will hail from across the country and around the world, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to participate in this historic march. To end the march, this incredible mass of people will surround the White House and call on our president and government to take action now. But what are these people really fighting for? What is motivating so many people to join this movement for climate action and justice? Spoiler alert: It’s probably not just to save the polar bears.
Global climate change is already occurring at an unprecedented rate and is caused primarily by human activity; especially due to our unrelenting burning of fossil fuels. Ice caps in both the North and South Poles are melting faster than ever before, and winter sea ice levels in the Arctic hit record lows almost every year. Sea level has risen eight inches since 1880, but is expected to rise another two to seven feet by the end of the century without extreme action. Due to rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification resulting from increased carbon in the atmosphere, over 12 percent of Earth’s coral reefs have disappeared in just the past year. Extreme weather will only get more extreme, with droughts becoming longer and harsher and storms increasing in strength and destructive force. That is unfortunate for the Earth, but so what? Why does that matter to me, a human? I should be fine, right?
In fact, climate change poses a catastrophic threat to humanity, both presently and in the future. Climate change does and will cause significant human death around the world. 166,000 people die each year from climate change related events. This rate will only increase, as climate change is expected to cause 250,000 more deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. In the 2016 drought in India, which was influenced and strengthened greatly by climate change, nine farmers committed suicide per day. In China, 4,400 people die every day from causes related to air pollution. Climate change kills more people per year than war, murder and traffic accidents combined. Climate change is responsible for far more deaths per year than terrorism.
Furthermore, climate change does and will displace a significant portion of the human population around the world. The island nation of Kiribati will be completely underwater in 50 years, forcing each citizen there to find a new home. The United Nations estimates that there are currently around 25 million climate refugees worldwide, a number that is expected to double within five years. The Red Cross estimates that there will be as many as 1 billion climate refugees by 2050. This will cause extreme strain on every world economy and create unprecedented and widespread poverty.
Marginalized communities and future generations will bear the brunt of this damage, but even we who live in the United States are not safe from the effects of global climate change. New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York City are all expected to be mostly or fully underwater by 2100. Where will these millions of displaced people go?
Immediate climate action is not just necessary to help the climate. Immediate climate action is necessary to help the people that climate change affects. We can no longer stand idly by while our reckless climate actions lead to the death and displacement of so many. We can no longer ignore the science and no longer downplay the catastrophic potential future impacts. This is the message of the 100,000 plus people that will convene in Washington D.C. on April 29. Their message is clear. Immediate and drastic climate action is necessary. Will you join us?
We will march together for justice. We will march together for our Earth. We will march together for our future. At the end of the day, it’s not about saving the polar bears. It’s about saving humanity.
ZACH RISSMAN is a College sophomore and co-coordinator of Fossil Free Penn.