Last weekend, climate advocates and activists in more than 180 countries performed in over 2000 showings of what may very well have been the world’s largest production to date: Moving Planet. Billed as “A Day to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels” and built on the backs of tens of thousands of impassioned participants, “energy” was both the central theme and the real star of this show. The production—massive in size and yet purposefully carbon-light—focused on moving our world from dirty energy to clean energy while showcasing the human energy powering the movement.
In keeping with that focus, here in Iowa City, our local production opened with a march and a bike rally, the latter of which consisted of a 3.50-mile route (in honor of the parent production company, 350.org), which featured a brief interlude at The University of Iowa’s Sustainable Energy Discovery District. Passing by the UI’s old coal- and gas-burning power plant (which in recent years has been retrofitted to also burn biomass) and pausing at the university’s new solar EV charging station and wind turbine, the riders reconvened with the marchers in City Park. There they ended their respective journeys and gathered for a celebration at the Riverside Festival Stage.
Looking back, on a day for moving the planet, on a day when all the world truly was a stage, it seems fitting that we staged our local production in a space modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. To an audience of about 150, our players—educators, entrepreneurs, and elected officials—gave us their monologues, and our musicians sang us their ballads. For those four hours, friends, Iowans, and countrymen lent their ears—and their voices—to a rallying cry for climate change solutions.
And thus concludes Act One. What’s to come in the second and final act? That is yet to be written, and how it all unfolds is entirely up to us. If our work, like the Bard’s, is to stand the test of time, if Moving Planet is to have any lasting effect, we must move from playing at action to becoming agentic actors, fully embodying our roles as climate advocates.
This means not just putting on a show to celebrate the Earth a couple of times a year, but celebrating it every waking hour. This means not only making changes in our own lives, but also working toward the necessary cultural changes and demanding the necessary policy changes. On a more concrete level, this means staying current, continuing to educate ourselves on these changes and speaking up in defense of their necessity, and moreover, in defense of their inherent advantages.
In the U.S., this means contacting our lawmakers to let them know our priorities and writing to our media to spark the discussion. In Iowa, this means attending one or more of the frequent appearances of the presidential candidates and pressing them about climate change and sustainability, asking, for example, how they propose to mitigate the economic, environmental, and human costs of our current dependence on fossil fuels. Wherever we are in the world, this means joining the cause or renewing our commitment to it—seeking out eco-minded individuals and organizations and working together with them to positively effect change.
In this tale, we are both the villain and the hero, both the victim and the victor. Which persona will prevail in the end is yet to be determined. What’s at stake is nothing less than our very survival: “To be, or not to be?” really is the question. Moreover, if we are not just going to survive, but actually thrive, we need to act now, and we need to move quickly.
Moving Planet’s Second Act will determine just what story we’ve been writing here. Will it be your stereotypical Shakespearean drama where everyone dies in the end? Will it be a not-so-funny comedy of errors? A tragedy? Or will it be an epic tale—where the good guys, pitted against seemingly insurmountable challenges, persevere to save their people and their home, and ultimately come out victorious, triumphant, at peace?
The UN Climate Change Conference is fast approaching, and the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance. Will our representatives keep the real problem — the fact that at 387 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon, we’ve far surpassed the safe limit for our planet — foremost in mind? Or will they be swayed by financiers who have a vested interest in the cap and trade program, distracting the world from finding truly workable solutions?
I just watched The Story of Cap & Trade, in which Annie Leonard does a masterful job of simplifying the concept and making clear that cap & trade is not a great solution. (We’ve posted the video on our home page as well as on our Facebook page for your convenience.) Truthfully, I’m not encouraged by the coming talks. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Leonard is wrong. Maybe we’ll all be surprised by the results. Maybe.
Then again, waiting to see what happens isn’t a very effective strategy. (I’m reminded of the business book that was popular a few years ago, titled Hope Is Not a Strategy.)
350.org, the folks who brought us worldwide climate change demonstrations on October 24 of this year, are gearing up for another go. Their purpose is to continue to keep the 350 number (the maximum parts per million of atmospheric carbon that is safe for our planet) at the forefront of delegates’ minds. The group is planning candlelight vigils the weekend of December 12, during the middle of the two-week Copenhagen summit.
News gathered by 350.org shows that the 350 message is spreading among religious and civic leaders. Here are a few of the folks who are supporting the 350 limit, according to the organization’s latest press release:
First we heard from His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians-that’s one in every 20 human beings. He was speaking the language of faith — environmental desecration was a sin, he said, and “350 is an act of repentance,” and in so doing he joined the huge group of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, indigenous and other faith leaders from around the planet. Many of these leaders are organizing “Sounds of 350” events on Sunday, December 13th — check out www.350.org/sounds to join this interfaith initiative.
Later that day we heard from the directors of the world’s largest zoos and aquariums. Almost 800 of them signed a letter to the Copenhagen conference demanding a 350 target lest their cages become the only place to see the world’s fauna: in their words, “the climate change threat to the natural world is so severe that we’re rapidly losing suitable habitats for these species.” They were speaking the plain language of science.
And the language of politics is chiming in too. Our friend Malini Mehra, one of the extraordinary Indian activists that have made global warming a high-profile issue on the subcontinent, just sent us a copy of her latest essay, which described October 24th “an awe-inspiring move by ordinary people to send a clear message to their cloth-eared political leaders: climate change required real action.” Given that too many at Copenhagen “are discussing a 450 ppm target, such calls may seem heroic at best and implausible at worst. But public opinion will be a decisive force in this debate. And public opinion is now getting globally organized. Importantly, as the 350.org events showed, more and more young people are becoming politicized on this issue. Politicians had better prepare to listen — the personal impacts could very well lie in store at the ballot box.”
That momentum builds and builds: we just found out that Oceana, a wonderful international NGO devoted to protecting the world’s seas, has organized advertising billboards for 350 all over Copenhagen-delegates won’t be able to ride the subway or even land at the airport without seeing that number. Our advance team is already on the ground, and more of our (exactly!) 350 young people from around the world (we think it’s the largest accredited team at the Copenhagen conference!) arrive each day.
A groundswell of support is building. Will our nations’ representatives listen to our voices? Will they place the interests of the people ahead of the interests of big business? Let’s make sure they hear our message loud and clear as we stand in silence, holding our tiny flames of protest — and hope. Will you join us?
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
October 24, 2009, in what may well be the largest environmental action yet to occur, 350.org mobilized thousands of people to make a statement about climate change. From the Maldives sea floor to the pyramids of Giza, from the Sydney Opera House to the Eiffel Tower, from a rooftop in Shanghai to the steps of the Old Capitol on the campus of the University of Iowa — across the planet, in 181 countries — we stood, swam, danced, climbed, rode, kayaked, bungee jumped, surfed, dove, sat, lay, or did any number of other creative actions in protest and a plea.
Scientists calculate that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently at 390 parts per million (ppm). They also tell us that the only safe level is 350 ppm or below. We need some carbon in our atmosphere — until the Industrial Revolution it was about 275 ppm — but we’re in the danger zone now, and global warming is causing devastating changes.
Weather patterns show ever-more-powerful and destructive weather systems, such as Hurricane Katrina; the EF-5 tornado that leveled Greensburg, Kansas; Typhoon Morakot; and Tropical Storm Etau. Sea ice is rapidly disappearing in the Arctic Circle to the point that the Northwest Passage is now navigable, albeit not exactly a smooth sail on a tropical sea. Desertification is spreading. We are in crisis — a crisis of our own making — and we must remedy the situation before it’s too late.
In December of this year, leaders of governments, NGOs, and businesses will meet in Copenhagen to discuss the future of Planet Earth — your planet and mine. The topic is climate change, and what we must do to reduce CO2 in our atmosphere.
What Can We Do?
According to 350.org, the actions to take are clear:
We need to stop taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the air. Above all, that means we need to stop burning so much coal — and start using solar and wind energy and other such sources of renewable energy – while ensuring the Global South a fair chance to develop. If we do, then the earth’s soils and forests will slowly cycle some of that extra carbon out of the atmosphere, and eventually CO2 concentrations will return to a safe level. By decreasing use of other fossil fuels, and improving agricultural and forestry practices around the world, scientists believe we could get back to 350 by mid-century. But the longer we remain in the danger zone — above 350—the more likely that we will see disastrous and irreversible climate impacts.
While each of us can and must take action to reduce our own carbon footprint, without policy change at the highest levels, we cannot do enough to counteract the steady, global rise of CO2. The goal of the 350.org demonstrations Saturday was to tell our leaders — government, business, and NGO — that it’s time to get serious and set limits.
Although some people still insist on denying the reality of climate change, the science is clear. “It is crucial,” says the 350.org website, “that decision-makers at this meeting understand and are held accountable to crafting policy that is informed by the most recent science.” The science they speak of is the limit of 350 ppm.
Taking Part in Iowa
On Saturday, the UI chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), under the leadership of president Jon Durst, organized a 3.5 mile bike ride in the afternoon. At 3:50 p.m., a group of students from the University of Iowa (UI), citizen activists, government employees, children, Blue Planet Green Living volunteers, and even a dog joined the bicyclists for a photo op on the steps of the Old Capitol building on the campus of the University of Iowa. Eco-Iowa City handed out information about the many green activities sponsored by that organization and the City of Iowa City. And ESW sold 350.org T-shirts, designed by engineering student Amanda DeHoedt, to raise awareness and pay for the event.
I asked Durst, a six-year military veteran and nontraditional undergraduate, what motivated him to organize the event. Durst joined the military after the events of 9/11, three days after he graduated from high school. He served as a nuclear technician on a submarine. While in the military, he studied and did a lot of reading about politics and activism. “What needs to happen now in the world is action, to make it more sustainable,” he said, in answer to my query.
When he first heard about the 350.org event on the Colbert Report, he was intrigued. Soon after, Elizabeth Christiansen, Director of the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, invited the UI chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World to spearhead an event to mark the International Day of Climate Action. Durst’s response was immediate. He began to mobilize his fellow engineering students and connect with the Iowa City community.
“A city with such an active citizenry, like Iowa City, is ideal to participate in an event to promote strong action to curtail global climate change,” Durst said. He also had a more personal motive for participating. “I wanted to learn how to organize an event such as this, in order to help the future leaders of Engineers for a Sustainable World. Organizing is a skill best learned by doing.”
Durst is quick to give credit to the others who pitched in to make the local event a success. Besides those mentioned above, he thanked Lora Buckman for managing the T-shirt sale, Maeve Clark and Jennifer Jordan from the City of Iowa City, Office of Sustainability intern Sara Snyder, and photographer Linda Dunlap-Edge (who climbed to the roof of a building for photos, despite recent knee surgery).
The Real Work Begins
The many stories and photos from around the world are inspiring. You can view them on the 350.org website and in various blogs, magazines, and newspapers. If you’d like to share your own photo or story with us, please do so in the comments section below or on our Facebook fan page (Blue Planet Green Living).
But all the marches and demonstrations and photos in the world are not going to change a thing, if we don’t back them up with action. Now, the real work begins, as we all make a concerted effort to trim our personal carbon footprints.
We must also lobby our legislators to commit to changes in policy that protect our planet. Have you called your state’s Senators and Representatives to tell them your views on climate change? The Copenhagen meeting takes place in December. There’s no time to waste.
Every day must be Climate Day. Our planet’s future — and each of ours — hangs in the balance.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Are you tired of hearing dire warnings about climate change while politicians wag their tongues and do nothing of substance to stop it?
Everybody talks about climate change, but they don’t do anything. It seems that all we can do is stand by and wait for the oceans to rise and the fertile farmlands turn into dust bowls.
None of us can solve climate change by ourselves. We can’t even get our leaders to step forward and commit to policies that might actually help. But we have to try.
One thing we each can do is to take a stand in our own neighborhoods. We can band together on October 24th to demonstrate the urgency of our demand to stop playing politics with the environment and our future.
Greenpeace and 350.org are working together to mobilize thousands of groups around the world to demonstrate their concern through a variety of local events. The goal? To tell politicians in no uncertain terms that it’s time to “get down to the business of developing energy policies that will mitigate the effects of global warming.”
The U.S. Senate bill on climate change is facing some tough challenges. We cannot wait to declare that we need — and expect — our leaders to take decisive action now.
So how about you? You have like-minded friends. You may even be part of a like-minded group. Get them together and plan an event of your own choosing: Plant a tree. Create a work of art using nature as your canvas. Hold a candlelight vigil for the planet. Conduct a peaceful protest march. Clear an empty lot for next spring’s garden. It doesn’t so much matter what you choose to do as that you choose to do it.
When you have your team assembled, when you know what action you will take, let everyone know. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and MySpace — everywhere you have a presence. Send emails to your Senator and Representative at both the state and national level. Tell your friends. And, above all, tell the press. The more attention that gets paid to this issue, the more our legislators will believe that we are serious.
But don’t just do something — talk about it!
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)