Stephen Harper, 'tar sands' a big theme at New York city climate rally


Some are dubbing it the largest climate change rally in the history of the world.

Others are calling it an environmental revolution.

Rhetoric aside, the event certainly drew big numbers.

On Sunday afternoon, about 310,000 people converged upon the streets of New York city for the People’s Climate March an event scheduled to coincide with the U.N. summit on Tuesday intended “to mobilize political will” towards reducing global carbon emissions.

Canadians were there en-masse unofficially led by federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

"The atmosphere is buoyant, the atmosphere is jubilant because we recognize that a march of this size…that this changes everything," May told Yahoo Canada News in a telephone interview from the middle of the march.

"All the Canadians [here] are…trying to let the world know that we do not stand with Stephen Harper’s reckless determination to stop global climate action.

"We stand the countries that want to make progress and we know the people of Canada want to make progress. And we will make that progress once Stephen Harper is no longer prime minister."

The Sierra Club’s John Bennett estimates that there were upwards of 2,000 Canadians there.

"It’s very positive, very up. People are smiling and talking with each other and thrilled to be part of something big. There’s not angry negative people here." he told Yahoo while marching.

"It’s just jammed it’s been jammed for 20 blocks. The crowd was chanting ‘Harper has to go’ a few minutes ago.”

[ Related: New York climate march draws hundreds of thousands ]

Josesph Boutilier who recently finished his ‘unicycle for the environment’ trek from Vancouver Island to Ottawa was also in New York for the rally. He told Yahoo that Harper and the tar sands were a big theme of the day.

"The amount of Canadian issues is quite surprising. Lot of folks talking about the tar sands…not just the Canadian contingent," Boutilier said.

"The other thing that was striking was the sheer variety and diversity of people here. You’ve got union groups, you’ve got religious groups, you’ve got, of course, environmental organizations. Everyone’s coming together."

Boutilier is hoping that the big crowd Sunday will influence the 125 world leaders who will attend Tuesday’s summit a meeting to be attended by the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron.

Harper will not be there, choosing instead to send Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in his stead.

[ Related: Stephen Harper to skip U.N. climate summit, to attend post-meeting dinner instead ]

Environmentalists have continuously slammed the Harper government for pulling out the Kyoto accord, for their promotion of Alberta’s oilsands, for allegedly muzzling scientists, for spending cuts to research and for weakening the Navigable Waters Act.

For their part, the Tories say that they are dealing with the environment issue in a way that doesn’t destroy jobs and growth.

They claim that they’ve actually taken a leadership role in international climate change efforts with their sector by sector regulatory approach on greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our Government has already taken action on two of its largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions — transportation and electricity," Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, recently said in a statement.

"This approach has made Canada the first major coal user to ban the construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units.

"Building on this strong record, we are now working with provinces to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sectors while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive."

Harper’s absence from Tuesday’s summit, however, gives the environmental movement some more fodder for their grievances.

This week’s confab, instigated by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, is not an official negotiating summit but comes one year ahead of a 2015 meeting in Paris where world leaders are aiming to a achieve a new legally binding and universal agreement on climate change — the first one since Kyoto.

(Photo from Elizabeth May’s Twitter page)

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