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The bottom line starts at 350

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Posted on October 22, 2009 |
By Angelo Lynn



We shouldn’t even have to tell you where you’re having lunch this Saturday, Oct. 24, or what you’re bringing. You should already know. I’m bringing a pot of hot pumpkin soup and maybe my apple crisp, the kind with the crunchy topping flavored with maple syrup. Can’t beat it when it’s hot. Where are we going? To the gigantic Middlebury potluck lunch, and while the food will be delicious, the cause is the driving force.

The potluck is part of the worldwide day of recognition about climate change that has been organized by 350.org, a Middlebury-based group headed by Ripton environmentalist Bill McKibben and many others who had previously organized the Step It Up campaign in 2007.

Saturday’s potluck hopes to attract 350 homemade dishes. Why 350? Because that is the parts per million of carbon dioxide that most scientists now agree is the maximum number allowable in the atmosphere to keep it safe. It is also, organizers say, a symbolic number “where we need to head as a planet.” We are currently at 387 and going higher every year; we need to reverse that trend and bring it down.

To increase worldwide recognition that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide is the safe level the world must meet, more than 1,500 events throughout 115 countries will take place. The goal is to provide public support of the issue so politicians are more willing to make the tough political changes that are absolutely crucial.

Why Oct. 24 and why this year? Let the folks at 350.org explain: “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.

“In order to unite the public, media and our political leaders behind the 350 goal, we’re harnessing the power of the Internet to coordinate a planetary day of action on Oct. 24. We hope to have actions at hundreds of iconic places around the world — from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef to your community — and a clear message to world leaders: the solutions to climate change must be equitable, they must be grounded in science, and they must meet the scale of the crisis …

“A number of small island nations and less developed country governments have joined leaders like Al Gore in enunciating firmly the 350 target, and equating it with survival. Climate coalition groups like TckTckTck have also endorsed the target, as have a growing coalition of hundreds of organizational allies...

“We are aware that we won’t get an agreement at Copenhagen that rapidly returns us to 350 — even if we do everything right, it will take decades for the world’s oceans and forests to absorb the excess carbon we’ve already poured into the atmosphere. But that’s why we’ve got to get going now — and at the very least we’ll have a number to explain why the agreement that does emerge is insufficient and needs to be revised quickly and regularly. We can use it to make Copenhagen a real beginning, not an end for years to come the way Kyoto was.

“In the end, everyone needs to remember that the goal at Copenhagen is not to get a ‘victory’, not to sign an agreement. It’s to actually take steps commensurate with the problem. And those steps are dictated, in the end, by science. This negotiation, on the surface, is between America and China and the EU and India and the developing world; between industry and environmentalists; between old and new technology. But at root the real negotiation is between human beings on the one hand, and physics and chemistry on the other.

“Physics and chemistry have laid their cards on the table: above 350 the world doesn’t work. They are not going to negotiate further. It’s up to us to figure out, this year and in the years ahead, how to meet their bottom line.”

All of us can make a difference by making individual changes in our lives and in our expectations. This Saturday offers an opportunity to become part of a worldwide movement that has to succeed. The local action that day starts on the Middlebury Green at 10 a.m. with a presentation by Vision 2020 as they identify 350 actions the community can take to cut carbon emissions; followed by the potluck and other activities. And don’t forget to clue in to other actions throughout the world via the organization’s Web site at www.350.org. The more we all learn, the better able we are to act.

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