by Chris Wilke

On September 21, 2014 people from around the world took to the streets to demand action from our political leaders in addressing global climate change. Over 400,000 were at the People’s Climate March in New York City where world leaders are convening this week at the United Nations for yet another climate summit.

The big gathering in New York was attended by NGO leaders from around the world including the leaders of Waterkeeper Alliance and our President, Robert Kennedy, Jr. Our Puget Soundkeeper Alliance Board President, Kate Pflaumer, was there as well.

Billed as the largest climate march in history, the New York event was supported by other demonstrations around the world, with over 2,800 events in 166 countries, including Portugal, India, Tanzania, and Australia. There were 40,000 in London, 30,000 in Melbourne, 15,000 in Berlin. There were speeches, street theater, protests, chants, and celebrations, but most of all there was solidarity and a common purpose.

Marchers in Seattle.

In Seattle, nearly 2000 people rallied at Westlake Center and marched to Myrtle Edwards Park, where the march split between those occupying the BNSF tracks in front of Pier 70 along the coal train and oil train routes, while others went on to a Salish Sea tribal water blessing at the Olympic Sculpture Park. A rally at the International Peace Arch in Blaine, WA highlighted four days of action of the Nawt-sa-Maat Alliance, a coalition of tribes, NGOs, and faith groups who joined from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Public opinion is indeed moving in the direction of greater and bolder action, but are our leaders listening? Will we as a civilization act in time to avert the worst effects of climate change, sea level rise and ocean acidification before it’s too late? Would our collective actions from this Equinox weekend be different than before?

I believe we are making a difference. We are pointed in the right direction, our leaders are starting to pay attention, but they are still not acting yet. Would this be the moment that alters our course? It remains to be seen if this “changes everything” as one of slogans states. It’s up to us what we do from here.

With a busy weekend of beach cleanups for the International Coastal Cleanup, beautiful Indian summer weather for a northwest adventure, a Seahawks home game against their Super Bowl rivals, and the height of coho salmon season, it would have been easy to justify skipping the proceedings. After all, this work is there every day and it will be there tomorrow.

But this event had the feel of something different and I just had to be there.

Climate change affects all of us, but Puget Sound has a special role to play and therefore a responsibility to hold up our end. We have a chance to stop massive fossil fuel projects and we have a chance to make an impact far greater than our little corner of the world would suggest.

Marchers block the tracks as a BNSF locomotive approaches.

That is why I marched.

I marched because of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Ferndale, Washington, which if allowed to proceed would become North America’s largest coal terminal to export Wyoming coal to markets in Asia, equaling or exceeding the entire carbon footprint of the State of Washington, from all sources.

I marched because of ocean acidification, climate change’s “evil twin”. Already the waters of Puget Sound and the Eastern North Pacific are some of the most acidic waters on the planet due to carbon pollution. Oysters, mussels and even the tiny plankton that form the base of the food web are suffering, and it is only going to get worse.

I marched because of the oil transport that is increasing all around Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Dangerous oil trains travel through our communities every week, each one transporting over 2 million gallons of oil along unstable landslide slopes and precariously close to Puget Sound shorelines. Any rail incident would be a disaster for the Sound.

Signs held by marchers in Seattle.

I marched because we have a responsibility to stand with our tribal first nations as they pick up the fight to defend their treaty rights and a way of life that has existed since time immemorial.

Most of all I marched because of a sense of community and of our collective responsibility to pass on a stable climate and a clean and healthy Puget Sound to those without a voice — our orcas, octopus, salmon, and porpoise and to the generations of mothers fathers, brothers and sisters still to come, and from whom we borrow the present.