Tens of thousands of people, young and old, filled the streets of midtown Manhattan in bright sunshine on Sunday to demand that world leaders quickly transition away from fossil fuels that are dangerously heating the earth.
Their anger was sharply directed at President Biden, who is expected to arrive in New York this week on Sunday evening for several fundraisers and address the session of the United Nations General Assembly that begins on Tuesday.
“Biden, you should be afraid of us,” shouted Emma Buretta, 17, a New York City high school student and organizer of the Fridays for Future movement, at a rally before the march. “If you want our vote, if you don’t want the blood of our generations on your hands, end fossil fuels.”
The Biden administration has pushed through the most ambitious climate law in the United States and is working to transition the country to wind, solar and other renewable energy. But it has continued to approve permits for new oil and gas drilling.
That has angered many of Mr. Biden’s traditional supporters as well as politicians on the left wing of the Democratic Party who want him to declare a climate emergency and block any new fossil fuel production. Some lawmakers from the party’s progressive wing were scheduled to speak at a rally at the end of the march on Sunday afternoon.
The climate protest in New York follows a weekend of similar demonstrations in Germany, England, Senegal, South Korea, India and elsewhere. They are the largest protests of their kind since before the Covid-19 pandemic and come on the heels of the hottest summer on record, exacerbated by a warming planet, and amid record profits for oil and gas companies.
In New York, some demonstrators came in wheelchairs; others pushed strollers. They traveled to the city from across the country and around the world. They were health care workers and anti-nuclear activists, monks and imams, labor leaders and actors, scientists and drummers. And students, so many students.
There was puppetry and singing, as well as thousands of homemade signs and banners. “I want a fossil fuel-free president,” one poster read. A protester set a small hand-painted earth on fire. Another carried an elaborate cardboard sculpture of a fish skeleton. A group from Boston brought a banner that stretched the width of a city block, with stripes symbolizing the steady warming of the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial age. A dance club was located on the roof of a converted school bus.
“I’m here today because we must stop the overexploitation of Mother Earth and natural resources for greed and for billionaires and corporations around the world,” said Brenna Two Bears, 28, an Indigenous activist whose family in Arizona has felt the impact had wildfires exacerbated by drought and heat.
Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who is now an outspoken climate activist, criticized the estimated $7 trillion in subsidies that governments around the world spent on oil and gas drilling last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. “We are subsidizing what is destroying us,” she said.
The protests signal a change in message and tone from climate advocates, who are increasingly frustrated by the continued expansion of fossil fuel projects as well as promises by oil and gas companies to use new and often costly technologies to capture carbon dioxide from the Catch air and bury it underground.
According to scientific models and forecasts from the International Energy Agency, nations must halt new oil, gas and coal projects if the world is to remain at relatively safe levels of atmospheric warming.
The large, peaceful protests around the world this weekend were largely led by young people.
“Instead of taking meaningful climate action, the government is supporting the fossil fuel industry to prioritize corporate interests and power groups,” said Borim Kim, who co-organized the event in Samcheok, South Korea, where protesters chanted “Let’s end fossil fuels “ shouted. as they marched down a street next to coal trucks and stood in front of the city’s newest coal-fired power plant.
While Sunday’s march was billed as a non-violent demonstration, the climate protests are becoming increasingly confrontational. Activists have thrown cakes at glass-covered paintings, disrupted a U.S. Open tennis match and stuck themselves to oil company buildings.
Civil disobedience actions are planned for Monday in Lower Manhattan.
Activists are particularly angry that this year’s UN climate talks are taking place in the United Arab Emirates, a leading oil producer, and are being led by Sultan al-Jaber, head of the Emirati state oil giant ADNOC.
Protest organizers used Sunday’s event to send a tough message to President Biden as he begins his re-election campaign: Do more if you want our votes.
Rafael Chavez, 37, came from Newark with a group called Nuevo Labor, which represents immigrants, many from Mexico and Central America, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. “Our people are breaking down, you know, they work in construction, in agriculture and even those who work in warehouses,” she said. “They all feel the heat.”
“They are people who work outside and the temperature and the climate can make them sick, it takes a toll on their body,” Ms. Chavez said.
The president “is in a unique position to take a leadership role in ending the fossil fuel movement worldwide,” said Daphne Frias, 25, a climate activist. “It’s time for the United States, but particularly the Global North, to really step forward and say we take responsibility for the way we have harmed and polluted.”
Virginia Page Fortna, a political science professor at Columbia, was gentle on Mr. Biden. “He’s done a lot, that’s great,” she said. “But of course there is still more to do. It would be great if he declared a climate emergency.”
Amid the anger, there was also a celebratory mood among some protesters.
Michelle Joni, 38, of Brooklyn, brought what she described as a “dance center” for the march – a converted school bus decorated with Barbie heads, stickers, a couch and a rooftop dance floor. “It’s like we bring joy and we dance and create connections,” she said. “And that is the fuel for fossil fuel elimination.”
Liset Cruz, Wesley Parnell and Cam Baker contributed reporting.