Dressed in blue to symbolize a wave of water, 350,000 marchers descended upon New York City, chanting, “the people are rising, no more compromising.” The People’s Climate March, which was scheduled to complement the United Nations Climate Summit, demanded that governments take drastic action to prevent further global warming.  This is not the first, but likely the most significant mobilization yet for the relatively new organization, 350.org.

The day after the march, a smaller radical group took to lower Manhattan, in what became known as the Flood Wall Street event. This movement called for across-the-board divestment from the fossil fuel industry.  

Socially conscious investing is not a new phenomenon. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world with nearly $1 trillion in assets, is responding to citizen requests for more responsible investments that consider climate change.  Even individual investors like the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune, alongside other wealthy investors, have pledged reconsider investments in firms generating greenhouse gases. The group has assets of over $50 billion.

Other sectors of the economy are also taking more action. Wal-Mart and General Mills, a large food manufacturer, have initiated plans to influence their supply chain, betting that consumers will value their efforts to save the planet.

However, environmental groups feel much more needs to be done, and are hoping to fast track carbon tax initiatives, halt projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and shift the balance of (fossil fuel firm held) power.

Founded in 2009, 350.org took its name from what climate scientists believed to be the maximum CO2 level, in parts per million, that can be released into the atmosphere, while still preserving our planet. The group’s founder, Bill McKibben, a long-time climate change advocate, came to fame after writing a 2012 Rolling Stone article in which, to simplify climate urgency, he emphasizes three interdependent numbers.

The first number, two degrees Celsius, is the highest allowed temperature increase Earth can sustain in its present form. The number was ratified by 167 countries at the Copenhagen Climate conference in 2009.  The second number, 565 gigatons, is the remaining CO2 intake available to rise from the current 0.8 degree increase to the maximum 2 degree increase.

The third number, 2795 gigatons, is, according to financial analysts, the amount of CO2 in established fossil fuel reserves.

The sheer difference between the two numbers has helped convince advocates to shift and directly concentrate their efforts on eradicating fossil-fuel firms. The new strategy has gained additional support from anti-capitalists. Naomi Klein, who appears in 350.org’s “Do the Math,” writes in her most recent book, This Changes Everything: “block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones,” “stop fuel profits from going to shareholders,” and “we have tried the approach of polite incremental change.”

With lingering economic growth and calls for austerity, capitalists have little to fear, especially after the decline of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which arguably made demands about more immediately relevant issues than Flood Wall-street.

For the time being, environmentalists faced two challenges; legal limits and the struggle to establish an entirely green economy.  Even the US’ Environmental Protection Agency , decreed by President Obama to eliminate coal and eventually, natural gas from the United States energy mix, faces legal barriers as it may have exceeded its authority by attempting to double regulate across federal and state statutes. A dozen states are suing the EPA under the All Writs Act of 1789.

Secondly, transitioning to a fully green economy is not always easy. Germany, is praised by environmentalists as a leading example of a country that has coped with energy plant closures and heavy losses from conventional utilities. Despite solar and wind generating more than 20% of its energy, the country needs to maintain sustainable sources of power, that renewables fail to deliver, to drive the likes of BASF, whose main plant consumes as much electricity as the whole of neighbouring Denmark.

Environmental groups may have well convinced policy makers of a forthcoming apocalypse, but they have yet to dissuade them from fears of economic stagnation, at least with “it’s the economy stupid” still the dominant mantra.The future of People’s Climate March will gauge its success. Should attendance at similar events surpasses the one million mark, it may win over much needed support from the people of the emerging and developing economies, specifically China.

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