ADDISON COUNTY — This Saturday, Oct. 24, people will be cycling through the streets of Kitale, Kenya. In Beirut, Lebanon, others will ride buses handing out flyers. The people of Chitral, Pakistan, will play an all-day game of freestyle polo. And in towns throughout Addison County, people will eat, ride bikes, drum and ring church bells.
The cause that unites these far-flung events is climate change. The vehicle: 350.org, an organization started close to home, in Middlebury.
Two years ago, 10 Middlebury College student activists and college scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben teamed up to coordinate more than 2,000 creative actions all over the United States, calling their movement Step It Up. On that 2007 day of action, people across the country appealed to politicians to cut carbon output 80 percent by 2050.
Riding on the momentum of that grassroots organizing campaign, McKibben and several
other members of the Step It Up team decided to take their message global. They drew the name for this new organization, 350.org, from what scientists believe is the safe limit of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere — around 350 parts per million. The current level is 387 ppm.
“The campaign is built not around some catchy slogan, but around a scientific data point,” wrote McKibben in an e-mail last Thursday. “We’re trying to drive home the notion that 350 ppm is the target we must be aiming for to have any chance of preventing catastrophic global warming.
“It’s a tough target, but its certainly good to see the emergence of the first real people’s movement about climate change.”
And while 350.org puts forth a daunting proposition — not simply to level off global carbon emissions, but to significantly decrease them — the movement balances a tough call to action with a lighthearted approach. At last September’s 350.org kickoff rally, 175 people did simultaneous headstands, putting 350 feet in the air.
But to go by the numbers, this year’s day of action is something to take seriously. According to McKibben, people will be holding events in around 170 nations, including 120 events in China and 150 in India. And there will be more than eight actions in Addison County alone.
The Middlebury town green will be the site of many unified actions, from a climate action rally to a 350-minute drum circle to 350 sun salutations led by Joanna Colwell at Otter Creek Yoga. And the big event of the day will be the 350-dish potluck, which starts at noon on the green.
Middlebury College sophomore Rhiya Trivedi is one of the planners of the potluck, and has been working with the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN) and the Middlebury Area Global Warming Action Campaign to coordinate the day’s events.
“We brought all the ideas for the events together at a place that’s central,” said Trivedi.
ACORN will be highlighting Vision 2020, a collaborative plan for the future of the county that was begun last October in a county conservation congress. The plan (which can be viewed at www.acornvt.org) covers many facets of life in Addison County, creating goals to be reached by the year 2020.
The Vision 2020 anniversary events fit right in with the other events planned for the day of action, and the ACORN rally celebrating this anniversary will be held from 10 a.m.-noon on the Middlebury town green, just before the potluck. ACORN President Jonathan Corcoran said people will be encouraged to commit to taking specific steps in the next 12 months to achieve the goals laid out in Vision 2020.
“Vision 2020 is a seedling, it’s a fragile start,” Corcoran said. “On Oct. 24, we are inviting the community to help us plant and root it in the earth, right here in Addison County, by coming down to the green, learning about Vision 2020 and committing to a local action that will be completed in the next 12 months. When we act, we bring an idea into reality and we change the world, no matter how insignificant it may seem to us.”
Trivedi sees the potluck as a way to bring college students closer to the Addison County community environmental movement as a whole. She stressed the importance of collaboration as the college’s environmental activism initiatives move forward.
“Sustainability is not one of those things where, at the edge of the college, it ends. We all share the resources,” she said.
There were a handful of other 350.org events planned in other venues around Addison County as of press time Friday (see a complete list of activities at www.350.org).
St. Thomas Church in Brandon and Forest Dale’s Grace Church will each be ringing their bells 350 times in support of the day of action. And Margaret Lowe of Vergennes was moved to coordinate an effort by churches in the Little City to do the same thing after she heard McKibben speak about religious involvement in environmental activism at a diocesan convention last year. She hopes to get her own church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, as well as four or five other churches, to ring their bells.
Most of the pastors at the Vergennes and Ferrisburgh churches she has spoken with have responded positively to her suggestion. The churches that do not have bells will have people ringing hand bells instead, Lowe said. She plans to coordinate the churches to ring their bells in turn for a total of 350 peals.
“I liked that (method) better because we’re all cooperating,” she said.
Removed from the Addison County action, McKibben himself will be watching it all from Times Square in Manhattan, where the advertising screens will be showing footage of the 350.org actions around the world.
“I’ll be watching closely for a picture of the great potluck,” he said.