On Sept. 17, more than 75,000 people took to the streets of New York City to demand President Joe Biden #EndFossilFuels — by stopping oil and gas projects, phasing down drilling, and declaring a climate emergency. The rally at the end of the march featured a lineup of frontline speakers, representatives, celebrities, youth leaders, and musicians — including Earthworks’ own Ethan Buckner! Here’s how the Senior Manager of Energy Infrastructure ended up closing the largest demonstration pressuring Biden since he took office and the largest climate mobilization since the start of the pandemic.
Tell us about who you are, and what you do at Earthworks
I grew up outside of Minneapolis, in a Jewish family that taught me values of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedek (social justice). When I was 16 years old, I witnessed death for the first time. Coming through that experience, I realized that I needed to dedicate my life in service to life. Soon thereafter, I learned about climate change — an existential threat to life itself — and I found my calling to fight the climate crisis. And at the same time, I started writing music — as a form of self-therapy, to work through the anxiety that teenage trauma seeded, and as a tool to process uncertainty in my life and in the world around me. Music and work for social change have been the cornerstones of my life ever since.
I came to Earthworks in 2017 because I saw an opportunity to work for an organization deeply aligned with my values. For the past nearly 7 years, my work here has focused on supporting frontline community opposition to the oil, gas, and petrochemical buildout, primarily along the U.S. Gulf Coast and in Appalachia. I am incredibly grateful to work every day alongside amazing grassroots leaders in communities most impacted by climate change and industrial development, and to build a powerful and connected movement together to end the era of fossil fuels.
What was the March to End Fossil Fuels, and what was your role?
When President Biden took office in 2021, the climate justice movement had high hopes — he had promised to end oil and gas leasing on public lands, embed environmental justice in all aspects of government, and be the ‘climate president’. Unfortunately, though there have been some symbolic wins, the Biden administration has done just the opposite, approving more drilling permits than Trump, walking back promises on leasing, and approving scores of new oil and gas export projects. With record heat, intensified storms, raging wildfires, and seas rising, the stakes couldn’t be higher for a rapid shift in U.S. energy and climate policy — and we needed a big moment to demonstrate to President Biden that our movement will hold him accountable. That’s why Earthworks took a lead role organizing the March to End Fossil Fuels alongside many partners and over a thousand endorsing organizations. For me, that meant wearing many hats — supporting fundraising, logistics, programming, outreach and more. And at the last moment, I had the incredible and humbling opportunity to wear a different hat: to perform my music at the march and rally with my band.
Share more about your music project!
I write and perform indie folk/pop music that weaves between the intimate and anthemic, exploring struggles that are both deeply personal and unavoidably collective. I am in the process of releasing my debut full length record, produced in Los Angeles by GRAMMY Award nominee Justin Glasco. A new song will be coming out each month, because each piece is a story I want to tell. Social change work can be incredibly meaningful, and also exhausting. The music I write has always been the antidote to my own burnout. As the world burns around us and forces of disconnection exert so much pressure on our lives, I hope these songs will offer listeners solace and inspiration, reflection and hope.
What was it like performing at the march?
For many years, my life as a songwriter and performer has felt fairly distinct from my career working for climate justice. At the March to End Fossil Fuels, I had the beautiful experience of bringing my worlds together. I am so grateful to my amazing band that mobilized on two-days notice to make it, including my brother Matt on drums, Jonah on guitar, Dan on bass, and our keys player Debbie who flew a red eye from LA straight to our only rehearsal the morning of the march. And most of all, I was honored to dedicate our performance to my dear friend and movement hero Joye Braun, leader of the fight to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, who passed last year. Joye’s family was right up front at the rally, and sharing that moment with them is something I will never forget.
How did you feel about the impact of the march?
As a core organizer of the march, I could not be more thrilled with our impact. We expected ten to fifteen thousand people — and upwards of seventy-five thousand showed up. Hundreds of frontline leaders led thousands through midtown Manhattan, with so much art and music and powerful energy, to deliver our message to President Biden ahead of the UN Climate Ambition Summit. The energy of the rally was electric, with speaker after speaker uplifting stories of struggle and hope, demanding that our government keep fossil fuels in the ground and usher in a just transition to clean energy. And we had incredible media coverage, from the front page of The New York Times to nearly every major news outlet.
What happens next?
The march was powerful, but it is clear we have so much more work to do. In the coming months, the Biden administration will make key permitting decisions on massive oil, gas, and petrochemical projects that could spell game over for our ability to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 C. We need to build off the momentum from September, and ensure our leaders are held accountable for their commitments to tackling climate change and environmental racism. I hope you’ll join us.
Where can we find your music?
You can listen to the song I performed at the March to End Fossil Fuels, called Eyes on the Prize, on major streaming platforms. My next single, called Treading Water, came out earlier this month, and you can listen to it here! To further support this project and the music, you can pre-order the full record here. Thank you for listening, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to connect!