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Frostpaw the polar bear at Flood Wall Street (Photo: Clayton R. Norman/Center for Biological Diversity)
Image: Clayton R. Norman/Center for Biological Diversity

'Little time left' for climate

Interview: Sonya Angelica Diehn
September 25, 2014

"Frostpaw" - aka Peter Galvin - shares with DW the story of why he went to the climate actions dressed as a polar bear, what it was like being on the streets, and why public uprising is necessary for climate action.


DW: Why did you participate in the people's climate train and the people's climate summit?

Peter Galvin: I went there because I'm feeling real desperation. I'm 51 years old, and even in my short life, I've seen the planet change dramatically: flooding in the Philippines related to global warming, huge numbers of people dying, indigenous lands being rendered uninhabitable, the Arctic melting to the point where the polar bears are starting to drown and starve. It's really alarming to me.

Frostpaw the polar bear at Flood Wall Street (Photo: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
Frostpaw the polar bear went viral on social mediaImage: Thomas/Getty Images

You dressed up in a polar bear outfit and went to "flood Wall Street," a protest against what demonstrators said was the financial firms' involvement in climate change. Why a polar bear and why Wall Street?

The focus of Flood Wall Street was to help people understand that the governments of the world are being held back from taking action by large companies that are making enormous amounts of money keeping unfettered oil and gas development as the status quo. We decided to bring the action right to the people who are making the decisions, which is not in Washington, DC, but actually in Wall Street.

Frostpaw the polar bear at Flood Wall Street (Photo: Clayton R. Norman/Center for Biological Diversity)
The Flood Wall Street action intended to make clear a direct link between climate change and big corporationsImage: Clayton R. Norman/Center for Biological Diversity

There were up to 400,000 people participating in what the organizers called the largest environmental protest in the history of the United States. What was it like being there on the streets?

It was so moving, it was literally bringing tears to my eyes seeing people of every background, from every country in the world, marching together all showing passion and love for the earth. About 60 to 70 city blocks were occupied before the march begun. It was one of the most powerful events of my life.

That's not a small thing to say, as you're a seasoned activist who's participated in a number of protests and actions.

This was probably my 25th or 26th civil disobedience arrest - but I think it was [among] the most meaningful to me. There were about 2,500 people at the Flood Wall Street protests, and about 100 got arrested. It was an incredible thing to see, the police all barricaded around the iconic charging bull, the image of the New York Stock Exchange.

Frostpaw the polar bear at Flood Wall Street protest (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Galvin is a veteran of nonviolent direct actionImage: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

How did the events unfold in front of the Wall Street building?

We marched to the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway in the financial district. We sat in the streets blocking traffic for a number of hours, uncertain of what was going to happen. There was a lot of tension and uncertainty how this would unfold, as there had been reports of aggressive police encounters during the Occupy protests. As the hours wore on, the police gave several warnings to disperse and tried to split the group in two at various points by putting barricades, but when the barricades were pushed aside the groups were able to reunite.

By the time nightfall came, maybe 750 to 1,000 people were left - the police gave a very definitive order. At that point about a hundred people sat down and linked arms. Then the police moved in and arrested first several people in wheelchairs who were at the front of the group, and then moved back and begun arresting everybody else, myself, my colleague and good friend Kieran Suckling of the Center of Biological Diversity, two women dressed as Captain Planet and then the rest of the folks.

We were all hauled off to a jail nearby in Manhattan. The police were very polite and professional, they gave us apples and sandwiches. We were released at around 2:30 a.m., and by 5:30 a.m. everybody was released. We waited for everybody to get out, and had a little celebration.

And what's the connection between climate change and financial markets?

The connection with financial markets is very clear: If you look at most of the carbon emissions that have been pumped out into the planet in the last 50 years, they can be traced back to about 30 major companies - and most of those companies, or their financial headquarters, are housed at the New York Stock Exchange. It's a big part of how our governments got taken hostage.

What do you think needs to happen in terms of climate action?

We need to step up the pace, really dramatically. Policy reform has to occur, and that's not going to happen without a flood of public uprising. That has to come about through a lot of people putting their rowboat in the water and beginning to row.

Polar bear on ice floe
The polar bear is in trouble due to loss of sea ice in the ArcticImage: Fotolia/st__iv

Can civil society push the balance in favor of actual change?

It has to. Look at Germany and the movement to get into clean power for decades and decades, the social consensus has been slowly building for some time with a lot of people doing a lot off hard organizing work for decades. Finally [the Fukushima] catastrophic event happens, and enough of a critical mass of people realizes all of a sudden [nuclear power] has to go. No progressive change happens without a lot of people expending a lot of sweat and tears.

Peter Galvin is co-founder and director of programs at the Center of Biological Diversity.

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