Take Action on Oct. 24: Join One of the Largest Global Protests in the Fight Against Climate Change
What started out a couple of years ago as a idea promoted by author/climate-change activist Bill McKibben and a few students at Vermont's Middlebury College has morphed into the biggest environmental, and possibly the most extensive worldwide protest, ever.
On Oct. 24, tens of thousands of people will be in the streets and on mountains, rivers and glaciers around the world demanding action to reduce CO2 emissions to 350 parts per million (ppm).
With just five days to go, 3,422 events are planned or under way in 160 nations on every continent, including Antarctica. More are coming online daily at 350.org, a small (seven staffers) organization based in Berkeley, Calif., that is coordinating the international day of action.
Organizers of the event are targeting the United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. They hope the international day of action will apply pressure on the assembled heads of state and governments to reduce global greenhouse gas CO2 emissions to below 350 ppm, the number that scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
This is an impressive task given that emissions already stand at 387 ppm. That demand has created a wired worldwide movement with a just over two dozen very busy coordinators based in offices, apartments and Internet cafes from Bujumbura, Burundi, to Berkeley, reaching out to other activists and organizations and planning global actions in conjunction with local communities.
McKibben, author of The End of Nature, the first widely read book on global warming, explained via e-mail to AlterNet why he co-founded 350.org: "The U.S. and China and governments and corporations change when pressure is applied to them. There is only one place that pressure can come from, which is a movement of people. Hence 350.org."
Planned climate-change actions for Oct. 24 run the gamut from impressive to odd, hopeful to heartwarming. The entire Cabinet of the government of the Maldives held a meeting underwater to display what will happen to the Maldives if nothing is done to halt climate change. Planning for the underwater event has even received U.S. media coverage, which has largely ignored the efforts of 350.org despite widespread international interest in the protests.
Australia will see more than 160 actions, including 350 tall ships that will glide by the Sydney Opera House, St. Mary's Cathedral bell will toll 350 times and 350 wind turbines will be on display in Wagga Wagga.
Three hundred fifty people will bungee jumping off old power station towers in Soweto, South Africa. A huge outdoor concert and aerial photo shoot in Mexico City is planned. An expedition is under way to Chacaltaya in Bolivia, site of the first Andean glacier to disappear forever. When the expedition arrives, the indigenous Aymara will conduct a blessing ceremony to try to protect the glaciers that are left.
A bicycle ride against global warming will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ceremonies will take place at Machu Picchu, Peru, and a banner parade will wind past the pyramids in Egypt. Over 170 actions are expected in China alone. There will even be small events in Kabul, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, areas where people already have plenty on their minds.
Then there are small-scale oddities: Horses in Mexico stenciled with the number "350"; a children's bicycle race in a Guatemalan where each participant gets to take a piglet home. Closer to home, a huge rally is expected in San Francisco organized by 350.org, the Mobilization for Climate Justice, Greenpeace and Global Exchange and a variety of other groups to demand strong action on climate change. Other events are slated in Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose, including a hands-around-the-summit of Mount Diablo organized by Save Mount Diablo.
"It's gotten so big at this point that I really can't even wrap my head around it," Kelly Blynn, 350.org's Latin American organizer based in Ecuador, said via e-mail. "Stories continue to pour in from the most difficult places to organize on earth right now, like Honduras and Afghanistan, gives me hope the world might sing together and give our leaders a big nudge in the direction we need to be going."
Lofty Goals, Economic Battles
Reducing CO2 emission to 350 ppm may not be an unattainable goal, but it is wildly ambitious. Already the U.S. climate-control bill in the House is under attack from fossil-fuel corporations, and efforts are under way to strip the EPA of its power to regulate CO2 emissions.
A push-back against climate-change activism is under way, even as the concept becomes a standard paradigm. Blynn noted that Ecuador initially supported the 350 ppm goal, until "after understanding the implications for their oil-based economy" they backed out.
But it should be noted that McKibben and six Middlebury College students successfully booted up a similarly radical, some might have said quixotic, effort in 2007 to get Congress to commit to reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
They initiated a surprisingly effective campaign in 2007 called "Step It Up." The campaign organized national days of action in April and November that year with 1,400 events, all calling on politicians to step up and take ownership of, and action on, global warming.
Everything from ski runs down endangered glaciers in Montana to a high school assembly in El Cerrito, Calif., was involved. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton included "Step It Up's" demand that the U.S. rollback greenhouse-gas emission 80 percent by 2050 in their climate-change platforms. (Of course, getting that in practice is a little harder.)
"Step It Up" grew out of a five-day walk across Vermont organized by McKibben. In 2006, roughly 1,000 people marched to the state capital demanding action on climate change. In each case -- with the Vermont march, the national day of action and now the 350.org International Day of Action -- activism started with concern over what was, by all accounts, something of concern primarily to scientists and committed environmentalists. McKibben then exported that concern to the mainstream.
Of "Step It Up's" success, McKibben said, "We felt ... smug until a few weeks later, when in the summer of 2007, the Arctic began to melt so rapidly." Shortly afterwards, McKibben recounted, James Hansen head of NASA's Institute for Space Studies released a climate-change broadside.
Hansen stated: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggests that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
They have their work cut out for them. Even as hard-core global-warming skeptics lose traction, mainstream economists suggest stopping climate change is not economically feasible. Mainstream commentators concerned about climate change suggest that 400 to 500 ppm of CO2 might be acceptable. They argue efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emission any more would, as Nicholas Stern, author of the British government's Stern Review said, lead to "an abandonment or reversal of growth and development."
In other worlds, saving international capitalism is more important than saving the planet. At best the poor nations and people of the world will have to live with the consequences of global warming, as rich, developed nations figure out ways to protect themselves.
All the more reason for world leaders to sign on to 350 ppm, and many have. So far, over 95 nations are supporting the campaign, among them the Association of Small Island States and the 49 least-developed countries. They know full well that it is the poorest and least-developed countries that will bear the brunt of climate change. They are the ones who will end up, quite literally, underwater first.
"Even if we do everything right from here on in," stated McKibben, "it will be a long time before we're back to 350 -- the youngest people on the planet will be elderly. Temperatures will continue to go up, and a lot of damage will be done. What we are working for is to prevent change so large that civilization itself will be challenged, and that's still possible (we hope). But only if we get to work right away."
This is where the Oct. 24 action comes into play. Global warming and climate change is an issue that has largely remained in the hands of scientists, engineers, policy wonks, the nonprofit sector and government officials. Yes, there have been climate-change protests in spots around the world, but jumpstarting a mass movement along the lines of the anti-Iraq-war coalitions has just not happened yet.
350.org offers the opportunity "to have a movement based on clear, bold and simple targets," said Jamie Henn, 350.org's communications director, adding, "We are beginning to see pressure building on the U.S. ... In issues like this we are able to have stakes on something specific so that negotiators have to meet targets or at the very least explain why they are not meeting the targets."
What is also unique about the 350.org International Day of Action is how it is bringing people together who, under normal circumstances have great difficulty in cooperating. If McKibben had to pick a favorite action, he said, "it's a team organized by Friends of the Earth Middle East: Israeli activists will make a giant '3' on their shore of the dwindling Dead Sea, and Palestinians a giant '5' on their beach, and Jordanians a human '0' on theirs. To me it makes clear that we need to come together across all borders to face our first truly global crises."
Adam Welz, a 350.org organizer based in Cape Town, South Africa, wrote: "350.org has reached out across the notoriously fragmented continent of Africa to inspire people from downtown Johannesburg to remote parts of Somalia to do something, however to raise awareness of climate change. We're making inroads into consciousness, and that's great."
Welz says that 350.org's success is based on its inclusiveness and flat structure. "It's creating a platform not telling everyone exactly what to do," stated Welz. "It's so far mostly sidestepped the territorial nonsense that stops so many nonprofits cooperating by being deliberately inclusive and allowing ordinary people to bring their own creativity to the cause rather than telling them what to do and keeping them strictly 'on message.' "
And that is the beauty and hope of 350.org. It is the faith that people acting together for a common goal will actually reach it, using as many paths as there are people.
"We, the 'official' 350.org people, are just being carried along in a profoundly inspiring wave of global energy that's rising around us," noted Welz. "This tiny organization has inspired what is going to be the world's most widespread environmental awareness event ever."