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The Good News: Bill McKibben and 350

12/15/09

Today began horribly. After stepping off of the metro platform Taylor and I entered into a sea of accredited COP15ers determined  to squirm, kick, and push with all their might to the Bella Center entrance. A claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. We finally arrived in the center, only to be shut out of every meeting for the next three hours. Informal discussions? No NGOs allowed. Steven Chu speech? Limited to one member from each NGO. Meeting you’ve been waiting an hour and a half for? Canceled after ten minutes of discussion. Worst part of all? The banana I packed as a snack got in a fight with my backpack and made a banana split all over my laptop and papers.

McKibben speaks at Klimaforum today.

However, later I was given the chance to hear a great leader of the climate change movement, Bill McKibben. McKibben has been a leader on environmental issues for a long time. In fact, his talk at DePauw two years ago was what motivated me to get involved in climate change policy.

He is now the founder of “350,” a worldwide campaign aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “350” stands for 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, the level NASA climatologist James Hansen and others say is the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change (read more explanation here). The bad news? We’re at 390, and rapidly moving higher. The good news? McKibben’s group is fantastic, and working feverishly to keep the international negotiatiors’ ambitions at 350 ppm.

Jake and Amy with McKibben

Most of McKibben’s speech was focused on October 24th, 350’s “International Day of Climate Action.” Less than two months ago, 350’s Day of Climate Action included 5,200 events in 181 countries, an incredible accomplishment. A paradim shift was made. Any misguided views that white, college kids from suburbia are the only ones concerned about climate change was shattered by the women carrying “350” pots in Bangladesh, by the school children lined up to form 350 in Brazil, by the men in India carrying banners. It was shattered by students from Lebanon, Tuvalu, India, China, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, South Africa, Mexico, and dozens more. Check out the YouTube video here, and more pictures here.

There may be fair criticisms of 350. Simply getting a picture taken with a sign is not the same as having to implement a national greenhouse gas reduction policy in a country. People from 181 countries may agree they want 350 ppm, but how to get to it, who has to pay, and many more basic questions remain contentious. Still, McKibben’s talk and “350” make me hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, world wide actions like that on October 24th will contribute to robust national and international policies to combat climate change. That would be a good end to a day.

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