Two Miles Could Not Be Further Apart: A Separation In The Approach To Climate Damage

Nothing disrupts the everyday activities that take place along East 45th Street, including a speech delivered by the 46th President of the United States at the United Nations Headquarters.


A cool, fall breeze sweeps in between translucent skyscrapers as taxi cabs and rideshare drivers jockey for position in the world’s slowest concrete motor vehicle dash. By this time, blue-collar workers who power the city with ten-hour shifts and lengthy commutes have traded in their sea soaked flip flops for suntanned Timberlands. Amid the mundane Tuesday, September 19th afternoon activities of Manhattan, a set of dignitaries in conspicuously high-price suits make their way down the street. Not much can be made of their conversation, but one word is heard loud and clear by anyone passing through. 


“Biden,” one of the men says before crossing the street.


President Joe Biden was conceivably miles away from the nation’s most populated city at this time, but the impact of his words was still being felt. Hours earlier, the President had delivered a speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In the time it would take to watch an episode of a T.V. sitcom, he touched on several pertinent political and social issues, including the ongoing climate crisis. 


“Nowhere is that more critical than accelerating the climate crisis — than the accelerating climate crisis,” President Joe Biden told the collection of public officials


“We see it everywhere: record-breaking heat waves in the United States and China; wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe; a fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa; tragic, tragic flooding in Libya — my heart goes out to the people of Libya — that has killed thousands — thousands of people.”


The President and members of his administration have plans to confront the “existential threat” of a rapidly changing climate by reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, meeting the $100 billion climate finance pledge made under the Paris Agreement and creating a market demand for green products. Each of these initiatives is put forth in an attempt to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.


Biden’s environmental plans were met with applause at the U.N., but were met with skepticism and criticism from those who were not invited to the meeting of political minds. President Joe Biden’s New York visit coincides with the launch of People’s Climate Week, a counter-space to NYC Climate Week events. The latest event in a week’s long slate of programming is a five-hour teach-in at the School’s Johnson Hall. While East 45th Street and West 12th Street are less than three miles apart, the topics and issues being discussed would make an outsider believe they were a world apart. Activists from around the world, eager students and educators from across the institutions piled into the auditorium to enjoy a slice of pizza, build a counter community and discuss the issues that are most pertinent to their communities.


“We really need your help in fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” said Crystal Cavalier, a congressional candidate from North Carolina’s fourth district.


“On the main line, which is coming through our sacred burial grounds, they’ve dug up many of our ancestors [and] called them rock piles. They’re going through some of the steepest terrain [to build the pipeline]. If you haven’t come through West Virginia and Virginia, you can’t get the brevity of it unless you stop and see it. It’s just really, really dangerous. My friend and I even overheard one of the pipeline workers, ‘I can hardly stand up on this mountain. I can’t believe they’re digging through this.’”


The congressional candidate spoke openly about a provision within a bill related to the debt ceiling that allowed the construction of a pipeline that she describes as “unscrupulous” and “dangerous.” More specifically, she has pinpointed areas where Indigenous burial grounds have been torn apart in pursuit of fossil fuel management. While frustrated, Cavalier says this is a fight she has been part of for a decade.


The fight that many attendees feel they have been engaged in extends beyond the borders of the continental United States. Cami D. Egurrola, an environmental justice fellow at the Tishman Center, remains concerned about the deterioration of her homeland, the Mariana Islands, a crescent-shaped archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. As impassioned as her fellow climate justice-focused colleagues, Egurrola points to colonization and militarization as the two leading causes of environmental damage in the Marianas.


“If you look at the collective memory of our Mariana Islands, the effects of ongoing colonizations and militarizations have seeped into our people’s bloodstreams and our lands.”


“As front-line communities, we are already feeling the effects of climate change in our waters. In my lifetime alone, I’ve seen the sea swallow our shoreline and I’ve experienced multiple super typhoons. One just happened a couple of months ago. As a young person from Guahan, the militarization of my homeland is the only experience I’ve known. Disrupting my generation’s connection to our language, traditions and environment. And my island is only 32 miles long. The jungles I pass on the way to my grandmother’s house on the north side have been decimated for the expansion of military testing, training and occupation. Toxic contamination from military activities and even the adoption of my American lifestyles and addictions have led to the sickness of our minds, bodies and spirits.”


The robust messages delivered by Egurrola and Cavalier are clear. There is a clear divide between the environmental goals of the United States and those who come from the world’s most vulnerable communities. However, the mission remains the same for both parties: something needs to be done. There’s just a difference in opinion regarding how that is achieved. 


“We are trying to save something that is important to us,” said Juan Mancias, Chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe


“We’re not saviors. We’re not Messiah-complex people. We’re just trying to hold on to the [Earth] as much as we can and protect it.