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newspaper that says "mulrow in NYC!"

By Andrew Van Gorp on 28 September, 2014

Today we are joined by John Mulrow of Wheaton, who grew up on the North side of the Morton Arboretum. John graduated from Stanford University with a focus in Earth Systems and is currently serving as the Business Industrial Sustainability Specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center as well as a board member for The Plant in Chicago, an organization that works as an incubator for businesses of the Sustainable Economy. John, Welcome.

Thanks Andrew, I’m ready to Sustain Dupage!

Nice! So John, you recently attended the World’s first and largest Climate March, The People’s Climate March in New York City, is that correct?

We are at the point where we need folks to move their physical selves into action to get the solutions we need. So I signed up to attend the March as soon as I heard about it back in February and I took the “People’s Climate Train” along with about 250 other climate demonstrators who boarded between San Francisco and Chicago, headed to NYC.

The People’s Climate March was an event that some sources say brought roughly three to four hundred thousand people to demonstrate in New York City alone with 2,646 events happening in solidarity throughout 162 countries on Earth to raise awareness of the impending effects of Climate Change and Disruption. A slogan was put forward by Bill McKibben of 350, the primary organizer of the event, that “to change everything, we need everyone.” Do you feel that this number, was enough?

There were actually professional crowd spotters and analysts from Carnegie Mellon University that conducted an assessment of the final number of marchers, I think the final number, was 311,000. That’s important because it really was the largest demonstration for a social cause in a single location in the United States in the past 10 years. Regardless of number, knowing that nothing has mobilized more people than this issue in the past 10 years is huge. It means people from soccer moms to scientists care about saving the planet. And I don’t use “saving the planet” lightly. The choice whether to do so or not is literally here, in our laps.

After such a show of numbers, many might wonder where or how the follow-through for this day of action might become manifest. Given your background, when you hear the phrase that was put forward by Bill McKibben, “to change everything, we need everyone”- how would you interpret the ‘to change everything’ part?  For our readers at home, could you identify a few tangible issues that you see might need to be changed in order to prevent Climate catastrophe?

I really like that phrase, but it does assume a certain amount of knowledge or understanding. You almost have to believe “everything” is in need of changing in order to be fired up about that phrase. But, if you’re swimming in student debt, sunk under the weight of a mortgage, angry at banks and politicians, or stuck in front of a computer or other piece of repetitive machinery every day – then you probably have an inkling of an idea that “things aren’t right.” It turns out our environmental problems – climate change being one – are a function of the economic system that rewards what Harvard Professor David Korten calls “Phantom wealth” – power based on investments, capital gains, and other forms of effortless value accumulation. Our financial system does a great job of demonstrating how far humans have come at doing math, but the outcomes in human happiness and environmental health show that we have gone backwards in terms of true awareness and wisdom. To reverse that trend I do think we need to change everything.

Some tangible things? 

Financially – we can drastically reduce the income tax, re-incentivizing the employment of more workers, while keeping or raising taxes on capital gains, inheritance and luxury goods. Fossil fuels must be more expensive and they will be, through current regional and future global climate legislation.

Culturally – we need to re-introduce farming as a respectable career; tie all science, math, and history curriculum to environmental case studies; and teach at least 2 foreign languages in schools, from Day 1.

Infrastructurally – Bike lanes EVERYWHERE. Also, I should say there are some amazing groups documenting a range of exciting approaches to a livable future.

Can you give us an example of some of those people doing work to draw up a list of needed objectives to create change?

David Koren, who I mentioned, is one. Author Naomi Klein is another, and also someone I used to work for at the Worldwatch Institute, Erik Assadourian. You can check out the New Economics Foundation and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) at Stanford.


Thank you for that. Can you speak a little to what you personally would consider an itemized list for how the world should move forward on Climate Change? What are the steps that we as a planet need to be taking?

Well, there is an ongoing international discussion and treaty-development process happening around Climate Change. The UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) set forth back in the 1990s a series of protocols and procedures for getting nations to formulate and ratify treaties aimed at regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto protocol is the famous international agreement that grew from the UNFCC. The US has notably never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Countries are hoping to put forth a replacement agreement – to be finalized in Paris in 2016. That is a huge process, worth following, and critical to the future of climate action.

But we also need to regain trust in our political leaders, and I’m not sure we can do that until the leadership starts looking more like the population – ethnically and economically. That’s why the Climate March was so cool – they did such a great job teaming up with a diversity of groups: religious, indigenous, and ethnic minority groups were a huge part of the march – they made up the first 1/3 of the marching crowd. That’s another part of the “Need everyone” story I failed to mention before. An annual Climate march, with local marches throughout the year might be a good step!

John, thank you so much for weighing in on this historic day. 

Thank you for having me!


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