More than 30,000 Americans on Sunday will march in Washington, D.C. as part of Forward on Climate, which could be the largest climate rally in American history, and about 125 Nebraskans will be there.
“We see this as the last opportunity to communicate with President (Barack) Obama that this Keystone XL pipeline is about our climate,” said Jane Kleeb, founder and director of Bold Nebraska.“It’s about our families and the risks to our land and water, and no amount of oil being brought to the U.S. is worth that risk.”
National environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council and 350.org initiated the rally, but local organizations like Bold Nebraska and Nebraska Farmers Union have joined the cause. More than 100 buses will transport participants to the capital on Sunday, and 160 climate organizations will take part, said Daniel Kessler, media campaigner for 350.org, a grassroots environmental organization.
“It’s past time for the president to get serious about climate change,” Kessler said. “We just had the hottest year in the U.S. on record, and half the country is in drought. If we don’t act now, then when will we?”
Kleeb said on the day of the rally, Nebraskans will meet in Washington, D.C. in front of the National Museum of American History. They will then converge with the other participants to march from the Washington Monument to the White House.
Their march will end with a rally in front of the White House, where national figures like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Mike Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, were planned to speak. However, McKibben and Brune were among 48 activists arrested for defying police at a Washington, D.C. protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday.
Rachele Huennekens, grassroots media strategist for the Sierra Club, said climate change is on the forefront of Americans’ minds thanks to the Keystone XL pipeline, drought, devastating wildfires and Superstorm Sandy.
“We are wanting to see the president use his leadership in the Environmental Protection Agency and to set carbon standards and continue to regulate them,” Huennekens said. “The ultimate goal for this rally is for our nation to drastically cut down on our use of fossil fuels and transition to clean energy.”
Ken Winston, policy advocate for the Nebraska Sierra Club, said his organization has fought the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since 2010. Winston said he has a sign in his office that says, “Some things are worth fighting for, like our land, water and our children’s future.”
“The people going to D.C. are sacrificing money, time and resources to make this climate rally possible,” Winston said. “They are willing to take a risk for something they believe in.”
According to Winston, a lot of the people going to D.C. are not necessarily affiliated with a climate organization – they’re just regular people who care about the future of the earth’s climate and resources.
Among these regular people is Nancy Packard, a retired science teacher and grandmother from Lincoln. Packard said she’s been interested in climate topics and conservation for many years. In August 2011, she was arrested at another pipeline protest at the White House.
“If I needed a personal reason, it would be the heat and the drought that showed up in my backyard last summer,” Packard said. “I think our president wants to do the right thing. He just needs to know there is a mass of people who care about our climate and that we are truly in support of him.”
Graham Christensen, public affairs director for the Nebraska Farmers Union, a non-profit organization that advocates for family farmers and ranchers, will also attend the rally. Christensen grew up in a farming household and continues to farm today. He said dramatic weather events are leading Americans to realize that the location of the Corn belt and the methods of agriculture in Nebraska could change completely in a matter of years.
“It’s not a question of if it’s happening – climate change is here,” Christensen said. “If we don’t change the way we are doing things now, this semi-arid region can become a dry region and no longer support the agricultural economy we rely so heavily upon.”
In both his inaugural address and State of the Union address, the president has established climate change as a major issue, Christensen said.
“The president has always asked of the citizens to lead the way,” Christensen said. “Rallies like this are very important in sending a message that climate change is on the minds of thousands of people, but even more importantly, that we are ready to move forward together.”