The March to End Fossil Fuels: 75,000 Rally in NYC to Push Biden & World Leaders on Climate Crisis

September 18, 2023

Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of midtown Manhattan Sunday to send a clear message to the world and leaders coming to the city for the U.N. General Assembly this week: End fossil fuels. As part of more than 200 actions around the world leading up to the first-ever United Nations Climate Ambition Summit this Wednesday, more than 700 grassroots groups together called on President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency, stop all federal approvals for new fossil fuel projects, phase out production of fossil fuels on federal public lands, and build a new clean energy future. Speakers at the massive march’s rally included New York Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, environmental justice activist Susan Lavigne, former Irish President Mary Robinson, actor Susan Sarandon and climate scientist Peter Kalmus. “Every little bit of fossil fuel we burn makes the planet a little hotter,” warned Kalmus, while Bowman and Robinson condemned fossil fuel investment as “subsidizing” the planet’s “own self-destruction.” Added Kalmus, “This is a task of cosmic importance. … We are on the brink of losing absolutely everything.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Under a bright blue sky here in New York City, organizers estimate some 75,000 people filled the streets of midtown Manhattan Sunday in order to send a clear message to the world, and especially to U.S. President Joe Biden: End fossil fuels. It was the largest U.S. climate mobilization in years. Some 700 grassroots groups united to call on Biden to declare a climate emergency, stop all federal approvals for new fossil fuel projects, phase out production of fossil fuels on federal public lands, and build a new clean energy future.

The massive protest is part of more than 200 actions around the world leading up to the first-ever United Nations Climate Ambition Summit Wednesday, where countries will present fossil fuel phaseout plans and commit to no new fossil fuel production. The summit takes place during the U.N. General Assembly, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to address the U.N. Tuesday, as well as President Biden. Several other world leaders are skipping this year’s summit, including those from four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: China, Russia, France and Britain.

Sunday’s march kicked off with a press conference and rally with activists from communities impacted by the fossil fuel industry and lawmakers. This is Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman of New York.

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: This is not just about saving our democracy. This is not just about saving our humanity. This is about saving the only planet we call home.

And it has to be the craziest thing in the world that the U.S. government actually subsidizes its own self-destruction. How stupid is that? We continually give taxpayer dollars to the fossil fuel companies that are killing our planet. That ain’t right. That ain’t right. And we continue to give almost a trillion dollars a year to our military-industrial complex, which is the number one contributor to carbon emissions in the world. And we give it a trillion dollars a year.

So, as you know, Washington is not broken. It is operating by design. It has been designed for destruction. It has been designed for us to scratch, claw, fight and kill each other because of our racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality differences. But the new American revolution includes every single one of us, not just the one-tenth of 1%, not just property-owning white men. It’s about everyone.

JEAN SU: Sharon Lavigne, who is the executive director of RISE St. James and a Goldman Environmental Prize winner.

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SHARON LAVIGNE: I am here today to demand that President Biden end the era of fossil fuels once and for all. In my community, we are surrounded by toxic fossil fuels that pollute our air and water. Fossil fuels are destroying the place I call home. For too long industry has gotten away with sacrificing my community. We say, “No more.” Fossil fuels are taking the lives of people living in Cancer Alley. These are my family and my friends. Formosa Plastics planned to build a big plastic plant in my community, but we rose up and defeated it. And we’ll keep rising up, like we are doing today, because our lives depend on it.

And you know what? With the stroke of a pen, President Biden can stop fossil fuel. He can do it now. We are asking President Biden to stop all fossil fuels. And if you don’t, it’s a death sentence for communities, especially in Cancer Alley in Louisiana. We can’t wait any longer. We are in a climate emergency. This summer was the hottest yet. And right now we are in the middle of hurricane season. The storms are getting bigger, and fossil fuels are making it worse.

President Biden talks a lot about environmental justice and the climate crisis, but action speaks louder than words. Every new lease, every new plastic plant, every day that he refuses to end fossil fuels, President Biden is continuing to poison my family and my community. The time for President Biden is to act now. We demand that he stop all new fossil fuels approvals, phase out existing fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency. President Biden, our lives depend on your actions today. If you don’t stop fossil fuels, our blood is on your hands. Thank you.

SU: Next, we have the Honorable Mary Robinson. She is the chair of The Elders, the former president of Ireland and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

MARY ROBINSON: I am here as chair of The Elders, but I’m also here as a grandmother, an angry granny, because we are subsidizing what is destroying us. We are in need of a very rapid movement out, phasing out, with just transition, phasing out of coal, oil and gas, and in my own country, Ireland, peat turf. We need to do it with just transition for the workers who built up our economies. We mustn’t forget that. But what we need to do is understand that there is a lot of money supporting denying the science or messing up with the science and also prolonging the life of fossil fuel. And this money, about 4 billion a year, is stopping us from understanding fully how serious the situation is.

And I like to say we’re actually on the cusp of a clean energy, healthier, fairer, safer world for all. We’re moving in that direction, but we’re not moving fast enough. It doesn’t seem too difficult to move faster, but we need leaders to take seriously that we are in a crisis. And when you’re in a crisis, have to be in crisis mode to deal with it. Our house is burning, as Greta Thunberg has said.

So, The Elders strongly support phasing out fossil fuel and Incentivizing clean energy, which the Inflation Reduction Act is doing. We strongly support opening up the multinational banks and the multilateral banks, the World Bank, the IMF and the other banks, to provide much more money for developing countries to get clean energy.

As I said, The Elders are very involved in intergenerational dialogue. I’m very much involved in dialogue with Vanessa Nakate, my friend here, who will be speaking to you, and many other young climate activists. You are giving me hope, because you are on the right track.

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And we need to have leaders understand: Get out of fossil fuel now. It is harming us. It is not right for our world. We are out of balance with nature. We’re in a climate and nature crisis, and we have to move much more rapidly. The stock take of that was done of what the governments are doing, their nationally determined contributions, show the governments are not — all governments are not doing enough. But those most responsible are not doing nearly enough. And that is the United States, the European Union, but also countries, big emitters like Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, etc. So, yes, this march is particularly focusing on what’s happening here in the United States, but it’s a global problem.

I am delighted to be here on behalf of The Elders. We are in total solidarity with you. You give me hope, because you are right, and leaders need to listen to you now. Thank you very much.

JEAN SU: Next, we have Susan Sarandon, actress, mother and activist. Susan, off to you.

SUSAN SARANDON: The U.S. is number one as the largest oil and gas producer — we heard Obama brag about this, actually, about how much oil and gas he was producing — and accounts for one-third of all planned oil and gas expansions for the next few decades. Just this last year alone, President Biden has approved mega-polluting projects like Willow and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. I’m sure you all know about this. Even though there were very, very strong demonstrations and letters, and I’ve signed a bunch of them and everything, they went right ahead and did it, OK? He went right ahead and did it.

This particular grouping today is about trying to put pressure on him, because the good news is, he could sign an executive order and change everything. Now, maybe we stand a bit of a better chance because it’s an election year, is coming up, and he hasn’t really fulfilled his promises from the last time not to expand any gas and oil.

So what we’re asking for is to stop all federal approvals for new fossil fuel projects — yeah, I wish I could do “Now!” Yeah, now, OK — phase out production of fossil fuels on federal public lands and waters — that seems obvious, right? I mean, please — declare a climate emergency, and to halt oil exports and investments in fossil fuel projects abroad, as well as lead a just transition to clean, community-centered energy at home.

And it would also seem to make sense, since almost all of our aggressions worldwide are about oil, and the war itself is like one of the biggest polluters that you could possibly imagine, so if we could end our dependence on fossil fuel, obviously, we would not feel the urge to completely invade so many countries that we have invaded, right?

PETER KALMUS: So, I’m Peter Kalmus. I am a NASA climate scientist, speaking on my own behalf.

We are currently on a pathway to lose basically everything. The cause of this heat nightmare that we’re in right now is fossil fuels. And our leaders around the world, including President Biden, are still expanding fossil fuels, approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, approving the Willow project, expanding drilling on federal lands. It is a form of insanity. It’s taking us deeper and deeper into irreversible planetary emergency. This is not something that we can just reverse. It’s not like cleaning up garbage in a park. However hot it gets, that’s how hot it’s going to stay for generations.

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I don’t know why I need to stand here and say this. I am a scientist. The scientists of the world have spoken. We have to stop expanding fossil fuels and ramp down fossil fuels as quickly as we can. It could not be more clear.

I’ve got two kids in high school. I am terrified for the future. I’m terrified for my own future right now. Things are burning and flooding, and the smoke is getting worse. The heat waves are getting worse. Will we be able to have food for 8 billion people? When will we see heat waves that have millions of deaths over the course of a few days? Because you have to understand, too, that every single year this gets worse, every little bit of fossil fuel we burn makes the planet a little hotter and makes all of these impacts get worse.

We are so clearly in a [bleep] climate emergency. Why won’t President Biden declare it? I just — I feel so gaslit that it’s insane. It’s so obvious. My kids know what’s happening. Twelve-year-olds know what’s happening. Elementary school kids know what’s happening.

And this is a task of cosmic importance, in my opinion. This is the only planet in the universe that we know that has life. And we are on the brink of a sixth mass extinction. We are on the brink of losing absolutely everything. There is no politics on a dead planet. There’s no economy on a dead planet. There is no democracy on a dead planet. And it is so [bleep] insane that the people in charge can’t see this.

This will — there is no way to escape this. We have to turn the tide away from fossil fuels. Forget direct air capture. Forget planting trees. Forget carbon offsets. Forget all of that bull [bleep]. There’s not going to be a technological solution. The cause is fossil fuels. We have to end fossil fuels. Currently, the White House has no plan for ending fossil fuels. They’re still expanding it. They’re still subsidizing it. That means they have no plan for dealing with the decreasing habitability of our planet due to global heating.

So we will rise up and fight. We have no choice. The people in power are failing us. We have to come together and fight. That’s the only way, and that’s what we’re going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate activist and scientist Peter Kalmus of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, though he was speaking for himself at Sunday’s press conference before the March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City. When we come back, we hear from Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and more. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Panic,” premiered at Sunday’s March to End Fossil Fuels here in New York Sunday, from the new climate change musical by the playwright V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, scheduled to open next year.

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