On Sunday night, a team of legendary musicians and renowned activists electrified a crowd of 3,000 at Carnegie Hall and issued a clarion call for the public to take action in the fight against climate change. Musicians Patti Smith, Joan Baez, Michael Stipe, and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers joined environmentalists Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben to impress upon the public that climate change is too important an issue to be left in the hands of politicians alone.
The night opened with an introduction from musicians Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon, founders of Pathway to Paris, an organization that brings together “musicians, artists, activists, climate change experts, academics, politicians and innovators to participate in a series of events and dialogues to help turn the Paris Agreement into action through innovative solutions.”
Just a decade ago, climate change was an abstraction to most people, considered a problem of the future that might endanger our existence “a hundred years from now.” In reality, however, it is already “a life and death issue for millions around the world,” said Vandana Shiva, an Indian scientist and activist who has dedicated her life to defending the earth from corporate greed and ecological bankruptcy. From the unprecedented floods that have ravaged India and Bangladesh, to the natural disasters that have menaced the United States, to the hurricane that has devastated Puerto Rico, the impact of climate change has reached apocalyptic proportions in recent months.
The evening witnessed several unforgettable moments, including R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe covering “Sunday Morning” by Velvet Underground, Patti Smith’s interpretation of Cat Stevens’ “Where Do the Children Play,” and Joan Baez dancing with Talib Kweli, who was backed on the bass guitar by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bill McKibben paused the show for 60 seconds to allow attendees to handwrite letters to the EPA, and the artist Olafur Eliasson used Little Sun solar-energy lights to orchestrate a thrilling illumination of Carnegie Hall, explaining that each of the Little Suns would be shipped to Puerto Rico to help those still living in the post-Hurricane Maria darkness.
One of the many heartwarming moments came when a dozen Tibetan elders stumbled onto the stage with Tenzin Choegyal and, unnerved as well as reassured by the standing ovation they received, sang a soul-stirring rendition of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, praying that the world might develop compassion for the earth and find the courage to take action. Tibet, known as the third pole, has become one of the first casualties of climate change. The Himalayan glaciers, which hold the largest reserves of fresh water outside the two poles, are melting rapidly. Temperatures on the plateau are increasing at twice the global average, causing epic landslides, desertification and the extinction of many rare types of wildlife. The elders, who are refugees exiled from their homeland, in their unsteady gait and haunting vocals, seemed like time travelers from an apocalyptic future who had come to give us one final warning.
The evening ended with Patti Smith’s rapturous anthem “People Have the Power,” as she was joined on stage by the other artists. The crowd rose to its feet as Stipe, Baez, Kweli, Cat Power, Tanya Tagaq, Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith, Rebecca Foon and the 3,000 people in attendance clapped and chanted in unison, persuading the world that we have “the power to dream, to rule, and to wrestle the world from fools.” The timeliness of the message was not lost on anyone.
Pathway to Paris has launched the 1000 Cities initiative, calling upon the public to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement, inviting all cities of the world to abandon fossil fuels and transition to 100% renewable energy by 2040. This plan, developed in collaboration with 350.org and UNDP, calls for proactive citizen engagement and seeks to support cities to develop and implement ambitious climate action plans.
For the crowd at Carnegie, it could not be more clear that climate change is the defining issue of the century. And if we do not wrestle the world from fools, pretty soon there might not be a world for anyone to rule at all.