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Politics

New York’s Climate Protest Was a Good-Natured Assault on Biden

Scenes from the March to End Fossil Fuels

The New York climate march.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Midtown Manhattan on Sunday in one of the biggest climate demonstrations of the Biden presidency.

For such a large and diverse protest, the message was remarkably unified: End fossil fuels. It was also not just directed at oil companies, banks, and big corporations. Protestors overwhelmingly directed their fury and frustration at President Biden.

“Thousands of people today are marching in New York City with a clear-eyed demand for President Biden and all of our world leaders,” said Jean Su, energy justice director for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a speech before the march.

“I am here today to demand that President Biden end the era of fossil fuels once and for all,” said Sharon Lavigne, an environmental justice advocate from Cancer Alley in Louisiana.

“We are so clearly in a fucking climate emergency — why won’t President Biden declare it?” asked NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus. “I feel so gaslit that it's insane.”

The protest comes at the end of a brutal summer, which featured Canadian wildfire smoke choking the East Coast, devastating flooding in Vermont, the deadliest wildfire in modern American history in Maui, more than 10,000 dead in Libya from flooding that razed an entire city, not to mention record-breaking heat.

But the protest also comes just a month after President Biden celebrated the one-year anniversary of his historic climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, which is undoubtedly the biggest package of clean energy programs the U.S. has ever passed. It was scarcely mentioned in speeches, and I didn’t see a single sign or banner acknowledging the accomplishment.

Instead, protestors highlighted the major fossil fuel projects that the Biden administration has green-lit in the last year. There were signs condemning the president for approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia to southern Virginia. Others demanded Biden cancel the Willow Project, a massive oil project on federal land in Alaska that the administration approved in March. Two banners depicted Biden literally greenwashing pipelines and oil derricks.

Anti-Biden sign.Heatmap

Anti-Biden sign Heatmap

With the 2024 election season kicking off and Biden likely to face a climate-denying opponent, Emma Buretta, a 17-year old activist with Fridays for Future, warned the president that he would need to earn the youth vote. “I’m speaking today on behalf of youth who are voting for the first time in the 2024 election,” she told the crowd. “You cannot win this election without the youth vote. It is not possible. And there’s only one way to earn our votes: End fossil fuels.”

Anti-Biden sign.Heatmap

In the crowd were environmental justice groups from New Mexico, Louisiana, California, and Michigan. There were indigenous leaders from Iowa to the Brazilian Amazon. Bill McKibben marched with Third Act, his climate action group galvanizing retirees. Celebs including Susan Sarandon, Kevin Bacon, and Ethan Hawke were among the masses.

Anti-Biden signHeatmap

Anti-Biden signHeatmap

Journalists often lump the climate movement into a single word for brevity’s sake, like “climate activists,” “youth activists,” or “environmental justice advocates.” But at the protest, the full diversity of people angry about the climate crisis was on display. There were doctors, scientists, and teachers marching alongside students, children, faith leaders, and grandmothers. There was a karate club, a choir, and the “Bread and Puppet Theater” from Vermont — the most Vermont activist group imaginable. (Some maneuvered towering marionettes, while others passed out samples of sourdough rye from silver platters.)

Below are a few more snapshots from the day that illustrate the spirit, humor, and ingenuity of the marchers. (I deeply regret not capturing my favorite sign from the event, which said, “Decarbonize your mind.”)

Protest signHeatmap

Protest signHeatmap

Protest signHeatmap

This pediatrician prescribes 100% clean energy.

Protesters as stoves and heat pumpsHeatmap

Rewiring America, a nonprofit advocating for the electrification of buildings and vehicles, showed up to talk to people about heat pumps and induction stoves.

They were in good company with this woman protesting gas-powered leaf blowers.

Anti-Leafblower protesterHeatmap

Anti-Exxon signHeatmap

I asked why free ice cream. He said why not?

Dozens of protesters held a banner of the famous “ warming stripes,” spanning the intersection of 6th Avenue.

Warming stripes protestHeatmap

Protest signHeatmap

Child protesterHeatmap

Greenpeace built a smoking skull to highlight how Bitcoin’s immense energy needs are propping up fossil fuel power plants.

Anti-Bitcoin floatHeatmap

Protest signHeatmap

“That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Protest signHeatmap

Protest signHeatmap

Simple, straightforward, no artistry necessary.

Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

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