On a day that could feature near-record heat, tens of thousands of advocates for action on climate change are expected to march Saturday in Washington in the second of two major back-to-back demonstrations focused on science and the state of the planet.
The People’s Climate March, featuring Al Gore, Richard Branson and Leonardo DiCaprio, is the descendant of a 2014 New York demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of people, according to organizers. It was moved to D.C. this year and timed for the 100th day of the Trump administration — a far more adversarial context. Rather than pushing for stronger climate action, organizers this year say they are fighting to preserve the gains that have already been made.
“The climate movement will convene in D.C. to show that the election didn’t cancel physics,” wrote climate activist and author Bill McKibben. (McKibben helped organize the first People’s Climate March.) “Politicians need to be reminded, even as they do the bidding of the industry, that the rest of us are watching.”
That said, at least some of the participants are outlining a more optimistic vision, such as Virgin Group founder Branson, who will march Saturday.
“The transition to clean energy offers the promise of new business opportunities, new investments, and exciting technological innovations,” Branson wrote, explaining why he is marching. “In short, it’s an entrepreneurs’ dream.”
The march comes as White House officials have been sparring over whether the United States should remain in the Paris climate agreement, by far the most advanced diplomatic process yet for lessening the global fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change. While Trump’s domestic policies will reduce the country’s ability to tackle its contribution to climate change, it remains uncertain whether the administration would go so far as to withdraw from an agreement supported by over 190 countries and other parties.
The administration has outraged climate activists with multiple presidential executive orders that have sought to roll back Obama administration climate policies and open new opportunities for exploiting U.S. fossil fuels.
A permit for the march granted by the National Park Service said that organizers expected 50,000 to 100,000 participants.
The heat on Saturday could be a story on its own — the forecast is for temperatures in Washington to reach as high as 93 degrees, with high humidity to boot. The record for April 29 in Washington is 91 degrees. D.C. is already having its warmest April on record.
In the past, temperatures have made climate activism more potent — when NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988 to alert the body about the climate-change threat, the temperature hit 98 degrees, a fact that greatly amplified Hansen’s message.
Getting to the climate march could be a challenge: The ailing Metro system is scheduled for more track work over the weekend, and planned roadwork in the district could also snarl transportation.
Marchers will assemble before the Capitol on Saturday and organize into “blocs” representing cores of the movement to address climate change — scientists; environmentalists; children and young people who will be most affected in the future; indigenous communities on the front lines; and others.
The group then plans to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and “surround” the White House, where, according to the march website, it will “make a loud sound demanding climate justice and good jobs that will drown out all of the climate-denying nonsense that has been coming out of this Administration.”
The People’s Climate March will have satellite events around the globe, including 300 throughout the United States. In this, and its general theme, it resembles the March for Science that occurred just a week earlier, on Earth Day, and drew large crowds in many U.S. cities — including 40,000 in Chicago — and in 600 locations around the world.
Organizers have insisted that the two events were not in competition with each other. While the March for Science was definitely broader in its scope — focusing on defending valid information in decision-making — the No. 1 issue where scientists perceive attacks on their research is climate change, making the overlap substantial.
For both marches, the Trump administration has taken actions that amplify their messages. On the day before the March for Science, the Trump administration removed Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy from his post, even though U.S. surgeon generals serve for a fixed term and Murthy had two years left in his.
And on Friday, the day before the People’s Climate March, Trump signed an executive order seeking to expand drilling operations off U.S. coastlines in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
Still, the march has drawn some controversy within its own ranks. One of the eight contingents that make up the march describes itself as “Anti-Corporate” and “Anti-Nuclear,” with a focus on “Fossil Fuel Resistance, Renewable Energy and Transportation.”
“Climate March unfortunately conflates climate goals with wrongheaded picking of technology winners and losers,” tweeted Ken Caldeira, a climate researcher at the Carnegie Institution. Generating electricity using nuclear reactors does not produce greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.