Encouragement by the truckload
It’s a weekend of climate marches, literally all around the world. Millions of people signed up for over 650 registered events, taking to the streets in the “Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels.”
It’s the first fitting response to a ferocious summer of climate impacts, and people around the globe are massing in a potent cocktail of upbeat solidarity, determination and outright anger aimed at the heads of state gathering for the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the UN Climate Ambition Summit on Sept. 20.
As I’m writing, we’re still waiting on official crowd counts and reports from the different continents and time zones. But it seems clear the numbers will vastly outpace expectations. Global organizers had 650 locations registered, but there are over 50 events planned across Canada, and in Germany alone, citizens took to the streets for Friday’s Klimastreik in at least 259 different locations.
Police turned water cannons on scientists in the Netherlands Friday, where a multi-day protest had already brought an estimated 10,000 to the streets last weekend:
Again, water cannons were used against peaceful protesters and scientists are among those arrested at the #A12 blockade.— Scientist Rebellion Netherlands (@SR_Netherlands) September 15, 2023
'We will keep coming back until the government stops fueling the climate and ecological crisis.'#StopFossieleSubsidies pic.twitter.com/Z7S4B7FBvH
And protests began to sweep the planet:
The people of Sindh, Pakistan know how to March 🪧💪— Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative (@fossiltreaty) September 15, 2023
One of more than 650 actions demanding that world leaders meeting at the UN next week #EndFossilFuels and make sure that the transition is #FastFairForever. https://t.co/IMO9K1G7tM pic.twitter.com/g6TWX3APTs
It’s undeniably uplifting and encouraging to break climate silence and find yourself among thousands of neighbours, taking over streets, bridges and city centres. You begin to feel we might just turn the fossil juggernaut around. Just last weekend, I had a very different, totally unexpected encounter with encouragement.
Down in the sunless bowels of the Vancouver Convention Centre, I ran into the kind of guy you might picture as the antithesis of a climate marcher. I’ve got to admit to some unflattering stereotyping on my part, but his tattoos were pretty fearsome. The beard was impressive, too, a grizzly cascade beneath a bald dome. No ironic hipster, this guy — a proud Canadian trucker.
“You’re gonna love this,” he enthused, proudly encouraging me into the cab of a Class 8 truck, washed, scrubbed and borrowed back from a client for the weekend. “No more diesel. And none of that CNG crap,” he said (referring to compressed natural gas). Sure enough, I was dangling from the handgrip of one of the biggest and heaviest of the heavy-duty semi trucks allowed on the road. Peterbilt, all electric.
“And we get the juice from Hydro, so no emissions.” I was too bewildered to catch a lot more of the sales specs, or the long list of incentives and government programs I could cash in on if I was ready to start switching my fleet to electric rigs.
“Way better ride, too. Quiet, smooth. Way, way better,” he said, suppressing a grin at my awkward gymnastics. “If I ever go back to driving, I definitely want one of these.”
The Peterbilt rep was far from alone among the hulking vehicles on the sales floor. He had the most authentic sales pitch, but the dockers and polos team over at Mack were equally enthusiastic about their electric sanitation trucks. Most polished of all, the slacks and button-down crew at Volvo Trucks were hawking every class of commercial vehicle imaginable, from “compact and agile” delivery vans on up to massive big rigs.
“You watch,” my Peterbilt friend said as I turned to leave. “We’re gonna get this industry sorted out.”
One floor up, back above ground and back into sunlight, it felt like we’d already sorted out the lighter classes of the vehicle world: no Marty McFly hoverboards in evidence, but you name it and someone seemed to have it at Fully Charged Live (“The world’s No. 1 home energy and electric vehicle show”). One-wheelers, two-wheelers, three-wheelers (two in front or two in back, take your pick). Quads, floatplanes. The EV cars — even the ones from McLaren, Porsche and Polestar — seemed almost old news amid the snowmobiles, speedboat and buses. Test drives were booked up first thing in the morning for the Ford Lightning (F-150) and Rivian pickups. Signs everywhere heralded the “electric revolution” or proclaimed the “electric age.”
Huge applause at one point. A panellist in one of the fast-paced presentations had demanded to know: “When do we reach the point you wouldn’t build a house without solar panels any more than you wouldn’t have a toilet?”
Other panels chewed over low-carbon food, “trains, planes and nautical vessels,” and “cooking without gas,” featuring Chef Meeru Dhalwala and Dr. Melissa Lem (names you’ll know from the pages of Canada’s National Observer).
The world of EV evangelists often seems divorced from the climate movement. Not a single traditional environmental group among the hundreds of presenters and thousands of attendees buzzing through the cavernous convention halls. Although health professionals bridged the divide — CAPE, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, were offering prescriptions for climate sanity: “Fossil fuel ads make us sick.”
Attendees in shorts and running shoes crowded heat pump displays and quizzed roofing-companies-turned-solar-installers. Some, but not many, had heard about this weekend’s marches and rallies. Encouraging in its own way — a new, buzzing front emerging independently in the mobilization against fossil fuels.
Fully Charged Live shows now happen around the world. They spun off a YouTube channel run by Robert Llewellyn, a U.K. comedian and actor who caught the electrification bug and launched his homespun Fully Charged broadcast in 2010. A funny and engaging host, the channel caught on, and Llewellyn has been bringing ever more gizmo enthusiasts towards an increasingly holistic planetary world view.
#StopBurningStuff is the Fully Charged motto, and organizers are clearly aware it won’t be enough to simply plug in our current society of hyperconsumption, clogged cities and ever-expanding fossil fuel production.
“Four wheels bad, two wheels good, two feet better?” asked one set of panellists. Others tackled adaptation and retreat in the face of climate impacts. Paul Shore, the Canadian author of Steve and Eve Save the Planet, spoke about “solving the over-consumption conundrum.”
It was another, very different setting where you began to feel we might just turn the fossil juggernaut around. If you’re looking, you find new fronts opening everywhere from convention centres to the streets to the highest global levels. The closest thing we have to a global energy chief declared the “beginning of the end” for the fossil fuel era this week. The head of the International Energy Agency warned countries and companies they are taking “very unhealthy and unwise economic risks” if they expand fossil fuel production. Fatih Birol urged governments to negotiate the phaseout of fossil fuels at this year’s UN climate summit.
I haven’t checked back with the Peterbilt rep to see if he’s tracking the latest pronouncements from the IEA, and I don’t expect to run into him at this weekend’s climate marches (though who knows? He shattered my expectations once this week already). And maybe that’s a good thing. Nature loves diversity, and he’s busy bringing encouragement to a whole new group of participants — by the truckload.