McKibben founded 350.org to draw attention to climate activism around the world. The name comes from 350 parts per million, which is the "safe" level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere according to NASA scientist James Hansen.
We are currently at 385 ppm. "Safe" meaning avoiding the most disastrous effects of climate change, like a sea level rise that swallows the world's coastlines and a radical redistribution of groundwater, making farmlands into deserts.
In Hansen's words; "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 suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." What Hansen is warning us about is that we have overshot the climate's ability to maintain the temperature range our species needs to thrive.
McKibben is calling the worldwide actions scheduled for Oct. 10 a Global Work Party, with emphasis on both 'work' and 'party'. In Auckland, New Zealand, they're having a giant bike fix-up day, to get every bicycle in the city back on the road. In the Maldives, they're putting up solar panels on the president's office. In Kampala, Uganda, they're going to plant thousands of trees, and in Bolivia, they're installing solar stoves for a massive carbon-neutral picnic.
McKibben says, "Since we've already worked hard to call, email, petition and protest to get politicians to move, and they haven't moved fast enough, now it's time to show that we really do have the tools we need to get serious about the climate crisis."
This is the "defining moment" for our species, in the words of Nobel Laureate Rajendra Pachauri. We are making history, and future generations will judge us by our actions (or lack of) at this very moment. Will our grandchildren condemn us for making the planet uninhabitable in the relentless pursuit of profit? Our will they celebrate us as we celebrate our grandparents, whose ingenuity and elbow grease got us through the Great Depression and World War II?
During his campaign, Barack Obama said, "My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change." It would make a big difference having climate-conscious leadership at a national level at this crucial time. But what will make the biggest difference is what happens at the local level. Will we make the personal changes and cultural changes necessary to meet the 350 ppm goal?
It is time to "roll up our sleeves" and put our hope into action, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, home of energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins. "Applied hope is not mere optimism," notes Lovins. "The optimist treats the future as fate, not choice, and thus fails to take responsibility for making the world we want. Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head."
Environmental Defense calls for a "new patriotism," which is "not only about love of country, it is also about a shared commitment to the welfare of our planet." They call on Americans to:
— Be mindful consumers, by minimizing our personal global warming "footprint."
— Be active citizens, by pressing our elected officials to take urgent action now, and by pressing all candidates for office to commit to passing strong legislation to cut America's global warming pollution.
— Spread the word, by educating our friends, neighbors and loved ones and making sure they recognize that each of us has a role to play in meeting this all-important challenge.
Applied hope means taking action, now, to curb climate change. Actions can range from boldly challenging new coal-burning power plants in your state, to going to town board meetings and pressuring elected officials to pass local laws to use energy more efficiently, encourage open spaces, and preserve forests and farms. In my community, artists are hanging "prayer flags" featuring 350 reasons to curb climate change. If you want to see what others are doing, or post your own action, visit 350.org.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected].