Commentary: Marching for a better Earth

On March 1, a dreary day at Wilmington Waterfront Park at the L.A. Harbor, an environmental rally initiated the "Great March for Climate Action" (climatemarch.org). About three dozen people committed themselves to walking approximately 3,000 miles from L.A. to Washington, D.C., traveling around 15 miles a day over eight months.

On Nov. 1, the Climate Marchers will enter the nation's capital and complete their journey with a week of rallies, conferences and meetings intended to raise awareness of the climate crisis and to inspire action in response.

The Climate Marchers have been greeted by church groups, local governments and other concerned organizations as they have organized rallies and spoken at schools, public squares and makeshift conversation stations on sidewalks. Recently, the Climate Marchers took a bus to New York City so they could participate with over 300,000 other people in the People's Climate March last Sunday before returning to Ohio as they resume their eastward trek.

In addition to walking and talking, the Climate Marchers have demonstrated their own commitment to the environment by reducing their carbon footprints. They minimize plastic water bottles and disposable products, use solar ovens to prepare meals and keep a solar charging station to power their devices, on which they keep supporters and families informed of their journey through social media and occasional calls home.

Ranging in ages from mid-70s to early 20s, the Climate Marchers are also joined for short periods of time by others, including families with small children, who cannot take or endure an eight-month walk but who are willing to rally and walk for a day or a week as the Marchers come near their home.

Sometimes sleeping in tents and sometimes simply unrolling their sleeping bags under a tree, the Marchers have gleefully welcomed the occasional church group that organizes an "in-home" overnight stay, complete with real beds and warm showers. They even stayed in an uninhabited wing of a juvenile detention center one night, hosted generously by the detention center guards.

Part of the "action" that they advocate is the willingness to shift away from demanding market-produced conveniences toward more neighborly interdependence. That dual shift requires giving willingly as well as receiving gratefully — two essential ingredients in building a sustainable community.

One might ask whether a march of this sort is a waste of time. Will a group of 30-ish Marchers — or even a swell of 200 Marchers in Des Moines and 300,000 Marchers in New York — really change our habits? Will this march bring a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania, stop the Keystone XL pipeline from running through Nebraska or reduce the plethora of single-passenger cars doing the daily commute in California?

Of course not — not if we imagine that a change of heart happens when Scrooge wakes up a new man after a night of epiphanies.

But genuine change never happens quickly or easily. True change happens persistently, with a single family committed to cutting its waste in half, a church group committed to keeping the Earth's care part of its own practices, and local politicians exploring ongoing ways of decreasing their community's carbon output.

Along the way, one discovers that genuine Earth care requires a new rhythm of life, with less emphasis on acquisitiveness and more emphasis on the "give and take" of true community. That rhythm may be the most powerful demonstration that the Climate Marchers have shown yet.

MARK DAVIS is the pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. He and his wife, Chris, have been supplying shoes regularly to their 21-year-old son Luke, who is part of the entire journey of the Great March for Climate Action.

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