To commemorate Earth Day, April 20, 2022
This communiqué/report will address the controversy over a banner that was displayed at a recent climate justice rally in Albany, New York on Tuesday, March 8, 2022 and which subsequently focused on two state senators and the alleged insensitivity of the banner. The real story, however, of impending climate change was buried by the media. Thus this report is mainly concerned with addressing the urgency of our climate crisis. I am the originator, designer, and artist/activist responsible for the banner, and because I feel that its message was ignored, or at least misreported, I am compelled to write this report to you.
1. The Controversy
NY Renews, a climate activist group, organized a climate justice rally at the State Capitol in Albany on March 8. Prior to the rally, an email was widely circulated inviting the larger community to join in supporting their efforts for climate justice. About 400 people attended. At about 12:10 p.m., I unfurled my banner in front of the crowd. On the banner, a jet plane, labeled “Climate Change,” sped toward two skyscrapers in a city, clearly a reference to the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. In large type across the bottom of the banner was written, “Wake Up America. 2050 Is Too Late!” Almost immediately, Senator Rachael May (D) of Syracuse and Senator Robert Jackson (D) of NYC, stood behind the banner, posing for pictures and afterwards giving short speeches. During his speech, Senator Jackson pointed to the banner, affirming its urgent and important message. In effect, the banner then became the backdrop for the rally; this can be verified by videos of the event.
However, once the media photos and videos of their appearance were circulated, Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R) attacked both Senator Jackson and Senator May, decrying the use of 9/11 imagery as inappropriate and their condemning their apparent acceptance of it. As a result, the senators and the banner got greatly increased media circulation. Without Ortt’s attack, the banner would have likely remained unnoticed. The numerous stories about the climate justice rally, by the New York Daily News, New York Post, Albany Times Union, Newsweek and TV network affiliates NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox, all focused not on the issue of impending climate change, but on the “shameful” use of 9/11 imagery and parroted each other in their condemnation of this alleged misuse. Since the two Democratic senators, as well as NY Renews, immediately issued apologies for this alleged offense to “all New Yorkers” concerning the history of the state and 9/11, the Republican narrative prevailed.
Sadly, the banner’s message was almost totally missed by the mainstream media: that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an increase in the average global temperature of 1.5 Celsius will likely be reached by 2034, not 2050; that almost all of humanity will suffer as a result; and that the crisis is far closer than we think. None of the above media outlets did much, if any, reporting about the fact that the global temperature rise will happen much more quickly than previously believed. I as artist/activist was not identified, nor was I asked why I created this banner or why I chose the image of 9/11 as a metaphor for climate change. A Fox News report and Newsweek even incorrectly reported that the wording on the banner was “Wake Up America, Before It’s Too Late.” This calls into question their ability to provide accurate, factual information. In fact, only a single reporter, Marie French of Politico, contacted me that evening for an interview.
To address specifics: Senator Jackson was the first to pose behind the banner. He then invited Senator May to join him for a picture. She approached the banner from the rear and did not see the banner imagery or text before posing. It is highly probable that Senator Jackson did not fully process the content of the banner before posing with the banner. In a conversation I had with Senator Jackson, his focus was not on 9/11 but on the banner’s message, “Wake Up America. 2050 Is Too Late!” Both of us understand that if we are to avert climate collapse, the emission of greenhouse gases must end much sooner than 80% by 2050, the current New York State goal.
It is understandable that Senator Ortt could have objections from viewing a video clip of the event. However, while videos show the movements of the two senators, they do not show the understanding (or not) of the individuals involved.
Prior to the rally NY Renews and Senators Jackson and May did not know me, nor did I know them. I attended the rally in solidarity and to raise consciousness. I was encouraged by the warm reception I received and felt that the urgency to warn and address the climate crisis was understood by those attending. At no point was I asked by the organizers to leave or to roll up the banner. At the end of the rally, I was asked to move to one side with the banner, and I did, as I was told that the last two speakers wanted nothing between them and the Capitol Building. That the senators, and NY Renews, subsequently issued “apologies” shows only that once again, both 9/11 and the climate crisis have been politicized and the essential story missed.
That the mounting climate crisis we are experiencing requires bold, provocative, and immediate action is not in dispute. Thus Senators Jackson and May even if not fully aware of the banner’s content are to be thanked. And Senator Ortt is to be thanked also, for if he had not attacked the banner, it would have garnered far less media attention.
2. 9/11 was the Appropriate Metaphor for Climate Emergency
State Senate Minority/Republican Leader Robert Ortt tweeted: “This shameful use of 9/11 imagery offends every New Yorker. My colleagues @SRachelMay and @SenatorRJackson are using a horrific attack on our Nation to advance their political agenda. The @NYSenDems should condemn this disgusting display.”
There is nothing disgusting or shameful about this banner. Climate change is an unparalleled threat to New York and all of humanity. Clearly not every New Yorker was or is offended; many are capable of understanding a powerful and apt metaphor. What is shameful is the lack of bipartisan cooperation and governmental programs on both the federal and state levels to stop the emission of greenhouse gases, and stop them now.
I used 9/11 as a metaphor because both 9/11 and the climate crisis are manmade events. 9/11 was preventable. At present there is still an opportunity, though rapidly diminishing, to counter the worst of catastrophic climate collapse. Thus the banner’s message that “2050 is too late.” Why it’s too late is discussed below, in the findings of the world’s foremost climate authorities. The metaphor works because the fact and the trauma of 9/11 also dovetail with the fact and trauma of climate change. The purpose and intent of the banner is to help prevent a much vaster tragedy, which is the imminent destruction of the very same city in which 9/11 took place and, in the wider context, the global extinction of humanity. By the “shock” of a banner using 9/11 as a metaphor, I am calling for a constructive and immediate implementation of responsible climate policy by both the state and federal governments to protect and provide security for the American people.
I used 9/11 as a metaphor because 9/11 belongs to all of us. It was the one truly horrific and tragic event that Americans were allowed to see. It was pounded into the American psyche by the media and is immediately recognizable by many Americans, thus an ideal way to warn them of the impending climate disaster.
I used 9/11 as a metaphor because our government, having been warned and disregarding critical intelligence prior to the attack, failed to provide the American people with protection and security. And our government, having been warned, is failing again to provide protection and security against a danger of almost unimaginable consequences to the entire world.
Other similarities: both 9/11 and the climate crisis are events centered around the control and use of fossil fuels, and our overreliance on them is known to greatly exacerbate the climate crisis. Both 9/11 and the climate crisis are directly linked to irresponsible and incompetent U.S. foreign and domestic polices. 9/11 was used to justify “shock and awe” and the war and occupation of Iraq, a country innocent of the 9/11 attacks and not found to have weapons of mass destruction. In fact, there is confirmation that the Bush administration lied to us in 2003 to launch a war. This is extremely important, as the U.S. has spent an estimated $21 trillion on warfare and militarization since then, as well as our precious time and resources, all of which were and are desperately needed for climate restoration and stabilization. For thoughtful and extensive information about the interconnectedness of militarization, climate change, and the use of taxpayer money, refer to the National Priorities Project.
Finally, I used 9/11 as a metaphor not to engage in “cheap politics,” but issue a heartfelt warning. 9/11 has been used, among other purposes, to mesmerize, victimize, create fear among, and control the American people; the most recent example was the attack on Senator Jackson and Senator May for standing behind the banner in question. The senators were specifically focused on the environment, not 9/11, but how quickly and easily the narrative was changed!
3. The Urgency of Now
A 1985 Senate hearing confirms that the impending problems of climate change were discussed and understood 37 years ago. Listen to a young Senator Al Gore speaking to the Senate about the “carbon crisis,” now known as climate change.
How aware were Exxon and other fossil fuel corporations, and how did they respond? A Frontline report indicated their keen awareness of climate change in the late 70s and a concerted effort by Exxon to obscure and deny the problem.
Thanks to the failure of our government for the last 37 years, to address the global issues of greenhouse gases and the rising world temperature, within a little over a decade humanity will suffer from a largely preventable tragedy. There is still a small window of time to forestall the worst of climate change, but policymakers must act now on both the state and federal levels. 2050 is indeed too late.
Close to home, the vulnerability of New York City was demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and by Hurricane Ida in 2021. Hurricane Sandy caused the death of 44 city residents and an estimated $19 billion in damage and “lost economic activity in New York City.” The remnants of Hurricane Ida and intense rain killed 43 people in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, including twelve New Yorkers. Janno Lieber estimated that that Ida’s damage to the city’s transit system ranged between $75 and $100 million. See “How Climate Change Could Drown New York City,” a short video by Vanity Fair. We must stop the emission of greenhouse gases now. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road. 2050 is too late.
On February 27, 2022 — one week prior to the Albany rally — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new report on the climate crisis. One summary of the report, a study “approved by 195 countries” and using the work of “thousands of people from all over the world,” was presented by The Guardian. Its headline read, “This climate crisis report asks: what is at stake? In short, everything.” If we are unable to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius, we will continue to experience extreme weather events of all types: catastrophic hurricanes, extreme heat waves, droughts, and excessive rain and flooding. Increasingly large wildfires are the new norm for California and the West Coast. We in New York are breathing in the smoke. Small, incremental increases in temperature matter. Each tenth of a degree of increase significantly affects the level of damage we will experience. Conversely, each tenth of a degree of decrease helps stabilize the environment and decreases the extent of damage.
The most stunning figure in the IPCC report is that the probable temperature increase of 1.5 Celsius will be reached by 2034. That New York State only plans to reduce its greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 may well be considered societal suicide by governmental incompetence and corporate greed. António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, has said: “The evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet and placing billions of people in danger. Global heating is affecting every region on earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible. We must act decisively now to avert a climate catastrophe.”
New York State legislators: do your job! Our taxes pay for — and we want and need — true national security, not more spending on the military. Will the Navy be able to stop the oceans from rising and flooding our coastal cities? Will the Air Force shoot down the hurricanes that ravage the Gulf and East Coasts and New York City? Will the massive tornadoes that recently devastated Kentucky be repelled by drones? Will the Army defend us from drought and famine?
Expanding militarism will only heighten our climate crisis. The United States military is the largest institutionalized consumer of fossil fuels in the United States, and emits 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. It pollutes our environment with toxic chemicals and radiation. It’s worth recalling the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” And now our failure to heed these words has put our future in peril. Resources and money are desperately needed for climate initiatives that transform our energy grid to renewable and alternative energy sources. And they are needed now.
On July 7, 2021, Monash University published a report in The Lancet Planetary Health, “Study of global climate-related mortality,” which links five million deaths a year to abnormal temperatures. That is over 416,000 deaths a month, or 13,698 deaths a day. But statistics are numbers without tears. Given our current inaction and the unwillingness of our government to address the crisis in a timely way, my banner is a warning of not only things to come, but a recognition of tragedies already upon us.
John W. Amidon is an antiwar, anti-drone, climate activist and member of Upstate Drone Action, Ban Killer Drones, and Pax Christi: The Ben Salmon Chapter. He is a veteran of the USMC, and an artist, author, and contributing editor to Bending the Arc: Striving for Peace and Justice in the Age of Endless War, published by SUNY Press.