Opinion: Do climate change protests really make a difference?


Albert J. Fisler is a junior English major and a  columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Albert Fisler

People from more than 2,000 different locations marched to campaign for curbs on carbon emissions Sunday, Sept. 21, in response to the United Nations Climate Summit, set to take place in New York next week, BBC News reported. People in cities and countries as diverse as France, Australia, Mexico and New York City have participated in marches. There have been countless environmental protests during the past few decades, but is it possible that this one could make a difference?

After all the many protests over the years, most protests (as well as the conclusions that follow) often go unheard of. Which leaves many to wonder: Do they actually work or even make a difference?

The streets of London, Paris, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and New York City were packed with protestors holding signs with quotes like, “There is no Planet B,” as well as one that translated to “We defend the new Mother Earth” in English. In a video posted by BBC News, when asked what the message of the protests were, one protestor answered, “We’re just trying to get the word out that climate change is real, science backs it up, and it’s something we need—something we need to do something about very quickly.”

Nevertheless, these protests have likely caught the attention of people worldwide, including those who will be attending the climate summit in New York next week. This just brings us back to the question: How much of a difference will it make?

Most of the protests I researched concluded with a few arrests and some jail time for the protestors, who had been blocking access to coal plants, defacing government property or participating in similar activities. It was difficult to find any information on protests that may have resulted in some sort of legislation or political action. Other than Earth Day being a prime example of protesting that turned into noticeable change, it seems that most protests either end in neutrality or penalty for the protestors. Not to say that those protests haven’t been effective, but they seem hard to find evidence of. And if they did result in a change in legislation, it was probably too slight to be mentioned or noticed. 

It seems to me that protestors are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to actually making a change. When they demonstrate peaceful protests, the fate of their issue is left completely in the hands of the legislators, which probably won’t be as inclined to do something unless they’re getting paid for it. Yet, when the protestors attempt to take matters into their own hands, like blocking access to a coal plant, or destroying genetically produced crops—just as José Bové from France did—they are reprimanded for obstructing business or causing certain people to lose money. 

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon attended the marches in New York, giving hope to the protestors and promising them that he will fight hard for a worthy deal in the climate summit. In the end, protestors have said they hope this will be enough to persuade legislators to finally take some noticeable action that will actually make a change for the better. Otherwise, this may just be another protest lost to the history books.