It’s almost like the climate crisis has gotten itself a new team of publicists, judging from the boggling array of sessions, panels, VI.P. dinners, workshops and fireside chats happening this week as part of Climate Week NYC.
Among the record number of 585 official affiliated events: Breath work to build resilience within the climate movement, workshops on ecologically friendlier wine, an ice cream giveaway to highlight “climate risks to the flavors we love,” and at least five sessions aimed at stemming the environmental ravages caused by the clothing industry, including a daylong circular fashion festival.
This was in addition to two sold out Earth-focused drag shows, “SAVE HER!” hosted by the eco-drag queen Pattie Gonia, and the spectacle of Prince William wading into New York’s East River to visit the Billion Oyster Project, which works to restore reefs using mollusks. There were hundreds of less glittery events too, focused on decarbonizing agriculture, deforestation-free cattle ranching, carbon removal, environmental justice, food waste, green steel and session after session on climate finance and climate tech.
Chaotic, sprawling, and borderline circuslike, Climate Week NYC, which officially runs from Sept. 17 to 24, is in many ways a showcase of human innovation, the countless ways people in many industries are working to slow and potentially reverse the enormous harms humans have done to the planet.
A magnet for start-ups, branding consultants, sustainability officers, scientists, policy wonks and assorted advocates, it’s a place to network, forge partnerships, see and be seen, and find solace with like-minded folks, albeit ones who can afford to journey to and stay in the country’s most expensive city.
“This is like Burning Man for the climate geeks,” said Oscar Soria, campaign director for Avaaz, an international advocacy organization. “It’s also becoming the Davos of climate as well. More exclusionary, more for the elites.”
Helen Clarkson, chief executive of The Climate Group, the international nonprofit behind climate week, said it was more like Fashion Week, “where people in the industry you need to work with are in the same place.”
For all the frenzy, there are questions about the week’s overall impact on mounting catastrophes linked to a warming planet, including flooding in nearly a dozen countries and territories. Banks continue to pour trillions of dollars into fossil fuel expansion, and oil and gas companies are not only failing to meet their climate pledges, but also ramping up production to meet continuing demand for fossil fuels.
“What’s the sum total of all the announcements and initiatives, what does it add up to in terms of billions of dollars moved, and millions of tons of emissions reduced?” said Alden Meyer, a former director with the Union of Concerned Scientists and now with E3G, a climate change think tank “And there’s also our failure to help vulnerable countries and communities deal with the impact.”
Some expressed the hope that climate solutions might scale up as fast as Climate Week has. The event began as a much more modest affair in 2009, when it was centered around panel discussions at the Morgan Library & Museum that brought international negotiators together in preparation for an upcoming United Nations climate summit.
Rachel Kyte, a dean emeritus of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said the pace picked up in 2014 when Ban Ki-moon, then the United Nations secretary general, convened a U.N. Climate Summit during Climate Week. A simultaneous climate march filled New York’s streets with some 311,000 demonstrators.
“The climate tent has been growing exponentially the last few years, and now encompasses almost every aspect of civil society,” Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, wrote in a text message. “What do you need to solve the climate crisis? The answer is, everyone.”
Among the first time visitors to this year’s Climate Week NYC was Pattie Gonia, who bills herself as an environmental drag queen. On Tuesday, she met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at the Stonewall National Monument near the famous bar in Greenwich Village that helped shape the gay rights movement.
Mx. Gonia has made a mission out of connecting queer people, people of color and lower income communities with the outdoors, and drew conservative fire this past summer for appearing in a campaign for The North Face.
“We need joy, we need community, we need to celebrate what we have done,” said Mx. Gonia, whose birth name is Wyn Wiley.
Mx. Gonia said both the “SAVE HER!” drag shows at Brooklyn’s House of Yes sold out quickly, evidence that there was space in the climate movement for more than doom and gloom.
“Gloom is a very inspiring motivator in the short term,” she said. “It’s not an inspiring motivator in the longer term. This is not some toxic positivity movement. This is ‘hey, we know the problems are real.’ So are the solutions, right? Right.”
Indeed by one count, done by The Wall Street Journal, the word “solution” appears in this year’s Climate Week NYC agenda some 40 times more often than the world “problem.”
“You come to be inspired by the gathering power of people in the streets and the genius of the new entrepreneurs,” said Durwood Zaelke, an environmental litigator and self-described “grizzled veteran of the climate wars.” “You can see the power in the streets being translated into solutions in the lab and getting to scale.”
“You should come away with some renewed optimism,” Mr. Zaelke continued. “We’re in the climate resistance. This is a battle. You need to get some of your energy from your colleagues because if you’re alone, you’re going to die.”