Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


Ocean acidification and climate change go hand in hand. Just as excess burning of fossil fuels leads to unhealthy changes in Earth’s one ocean, it also creates undesirable changes in the world’s atmosphere. Learn more about ocean acidification and carbon footprint—plus the Aquarium’s sustainability efforts—on our website.

And keep reading for an account from Emmy-award-winning producer of science documentaries Jeff Renner, who went to Washington, D.C. in late April to participate in the People’s Climate March, and kindly agreed to share his experience with us:

The sense of purpose was as palpable as the Washington, D.C. heat and humidity. As an estimated 200,000 marchers left the Mall just west of the Capitol on April 29, the temperature steadily climbed to 91 degrees, tying the all-time record for that date, and clinching the title for the warmest April on record at Reagan National Airport.

The irony of the steamy weather was not lost on the marchers, who walked from the Capitol to the White House, protesting retreat from policies and measures to address climate change. “Where are the deniers?” asked more than a few participants. “Probably seeking the comfort of air conditioning.”

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


It would be easy to dismiss the muggy weather as an anomaly. But 2017 is off to the hottest start of any year in recorded history in Washington, D.C.; despite the clammy winter—and spring—in the “other” Washington (our state), 84 percent of the United States experienced a warmer-than-average winter. And since 2014, global temperature records show each year has been progressively hotter than any year on record.

Given the resolve of the marchers (this meteorologist and writer among them), both humor and courtesy prevailed along the route. Not only was anger and vandalism absent, marchers frequently were heard thanking the police and security officers suffering through the same sweltering conditions. What was also remarkable was the inclusivity of participants, in terms of gender, ethnicity, faith and age. There were young children, parents and grandparents; scientists, educators, business owners and employees; faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. As the walk progressed, and perspiration soaked through clothing, sunscreen and snacks were traded and the diverse groups mixed.

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


If the boundaries between groups dissolved, the sense of purpose, and the messages remained. Some posters, and slogans, remain firmly in mind—and struck an obvious chord with the crowds lining the sidewalks. They fell into several key themes. Here are some samples:

“Let’s have a moment of science”


“If 97 engineers out of 100 told you not to take an elevator—you’d climb the stairs"

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


The ridicule of science and embrace of “alt-truth” was a strong point of contention. One high school teacher, pointing to the mass mailing of booklets by a petroleum and coal industry-supported foundation—booklets denying the strong consensus behind climate science—asked, “Why bother with an education? Why call for more emphasis on STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math?” Others pointed to decreased government support of alternative energy sources while other nations increase such investment. A marcher carried a sign saying, “China thanks the President and Congress.”

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


“The Ocean is rising—and so are we”

Maps were plentiful; maps illustrating projections of sea level rise and the loss of coastal land. Other marchers held up images of dying coral reefs and marine life, losses caused by warming sea temperatures and changes in the chemistry of ocean water. Recently updated data show the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 410 parts per million—the highest recorded in analysis of ice cores spanning more than 800,000 years, well before our species walked the planet. And in past programs sponsored by the Seattle Aquarium, scientists have documented how pteropods, tiny snails fundamental to the health of ocean in general and the Northwest seafood industry in particular, are sustaining serious damage as ocean water becomes more acidic.

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


“Hands off our holy land, our holy waters”

Native American groups led the first segment of the march, expressing resolve and requesting support to continue opposing the building of pipelines over, under and through lands and waters granted by treaties.

“Don’t worry about the first 100 days—worry about the next 100 years”

Marchers stopped to surround the Trump International Hotel, briefly sitting on the sidewalk to chant, “Shame, shame, shame.” While more than a few expressed compassion for coal workers and those employed by other extractive industries, numerous speakers pointed out the inattention of political leaders to many more who have lost jobs in industries eliminating jobs through automation…and to the increasing medical evidence of the impact of exposure to pollutants in aggravating and expanding asthma and related conditions.

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


“My wife just gave birth—so let’s save the Earth”

Perhaps the most common theme was the sense of obligation to future generations. The sign depicting the words above was carried by a young man, a proud but worried new father. Parents walking with children, grandparents walking with grandchildren, all expressed frustration with the change in policies, and the domination of politics by special interests with large pocketbooks. More than a few said, “It’s unacceptable for us to spend our children’s inheritance…and it’s just as unacceptable for others to do it.”

If feet were rubbed raw on this last Saturday of April by miles of walking on hot sidewalks, so too was the willingness to “sit this one out,” and the reality that groups not accustomed to joining together in dialogue and action are now moving forward together.

Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March


As a scientist, a writer and a parent, I felt that same resolve. That’s why my wife Susan and I committed to the expenditure to support my travel to Washington, D.C. for the march. We view it as an investment in future generations—those of our family, our neighbors and of people we’ve never met. There are many critical issues, but all pale if there’s not a habitable planet. I’m reminded of this phrase:

“It’s time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

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