350: the Most Important Number on the Planet?


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Saturday, October 24, 2009 was a day the world’s attention was focused on the number 350. According to a Democracy Now! report by Sharif Abdel Kouddous–filling in for his comrade Amy Goodman–activists from across the globe held rallies to “call on world leaders to take strong measures at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen.”

What does any of this have to do with the number 350? That number, according to environmental activists, represents 350 parts per million of CO2, a number which they consider to be the absolute safe upper limit for carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

According to the website of 350.org, the main organizing group:

Our focus is on the number 350–as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. But 350 is more than a number–it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

To tackle climate change we need to move quickly, and we need to act in unison—and 2009 will be an absolutely crucial year.  This December, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions. The problem is, the treaty currently on the table doesn’t meet the severity of the climate crisis—it doesn’t pass the 350 test.

The significance of this day may have passed unnoticed to most of us, but activists worldwide were out in force. Speeches were made, and it was all doom and gloom.

In San Francisco, Lauren Thorpe, a Greenpeace organizer, set the tone:

Lauren Thorpe: We are going to have more hurricanes, more forest fires, and if we don’t do anything, the sea levels will actually rise. So this movement today is calling for those solutions to global warming that will prevent that from happening. And it’s a doable thing, but we have to act now, and we have to act fast. And we need the solutions that are at the actual scale of the problem, so we need strong, bold leadership from our president.

Gopal Dayaneni, a member of a group calling itself the “Movement Generation” said this at the same rally:

 

Gopal Dayaneni: The story of the solution to our problems begins with the communities on the ground, on the front lines of the root causes of this problem: the communities in Richmond who are fighting Chevron, the communities in Appalachia who are fighting coal, the communities in Alberta who are fighting tar sands, indigenous peoples all over this planet fighting to protect their forests and their livelihoods, fisherfolk all over this planet fighting industrial trolling. Those communities on the front lines of this struggle are the source of our solutions.

By this point, some of you may be feeling profound disappointment at having missed the opportunity to celebrate so worthy an event. In order to better prepare you for next year, the following examples of stunts culled from some of Saturday’s rallies around the world may give you an idea or two on how you can do your part in the future to raise global awareness and save the planet from overheating. Next year, for example, you could:

  • Pose nude on a Swiss glacier;
  • Climb a smokestack;
  • Scale a coal-fired plant;
  • Hold a demonstration under water;
  • Bungee jump from a bridge; or
  • Form the number 350 using kayaks, potatoes, stones, people, garbage bags, or bicycles.

If you’re still not inspired, there are thousands of photos linked to 350.org’s website (but you’ll have to find the nude on the Swiss glacier on your own) which can provide you with additional ideas for your own stunts next year.

That is, if there is a next year.

Sorry to now have to spoil the mood, but man may have already spoiled the planet. Anybody know what the current atmospheric CO2 level is?

It’s 387 parts per million.

Oops, that’s high. Very high. In fact, there are some scientists who think that it’s already too late. The 350 parts per million figure was passed years ago—and there’s no turning back.

John M. Reilly, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, thinks that:

Three-fifty is so impossible to achieve [emphasis added] that to make it the goal risks the reaction that if we are already over the cliff, then let’s just enjoy the ride until it’s over.

Is anybody else starting to feel a little warm?