“Think globally, act locally” – it’s one of those environmental cliches that you see everywhere and that somehow never loses its truth from being repeated so often. To stop global climate change, consume less energy in your own home. We can all help save the Amazon rainforest by changing how we consume forest products in our daily lives.
350.org started along just those lines. A group of college friends getting together on Sunday nights to share ideas for what could make a more sustainable campus and world. They lobbied to lower the thermostats in buildings by just a few degrees. They helped convince the administration to endorse a plan to become a carbon-neutral institution, changing almost every aspect of their work to become more environmentally sound.
Teaming up with Bill McKibben, an occasional professor at their school, they started thinking bigger. They rode their bikes to the statehouse to lobby along with other student groups for more renewable energy. They even launched a national campaign during the 2007 democratic presidential primaries to lobby for a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 – what scientists then considered the ideal target.
And then at some point it changed. From thinking globally and acting locally, they started thinking globally and acting globally too. They turned the mantra on its head. With the banner of 350 – the now widely accepted target level for atmospheric CO2 needed to ensure a safe climate (we are now at 393 parts per million, and rising by 2 parts per million per year) – they launched a global day of action in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate conference. Tens of thousands of people echoed the call. People all over the world who had been acting locally, suddenly stood up and began to act globally.
In 2009, people in over 85 countries arranged over 5,000 events to show their support for the 350 target. Again and again and again, the folks from 350 have helped organize to get the word out in the streets. In 2010, after world leaders made it clear in Copenhagen that they didn’t want to do the work needed to fight climate change, 350 led the world in a Global Work Party – a collective announcement that if you don’t do it, we will. In 2011, the world took to their bikes for Moving Planet, 2,000 events in 175 countries around the world.
The Sunday Night Group didn’t invent climate change activism. They weren’t the first to try to make a change in the world. All they did was to give the number that those voices needed to crystallize around, they arranged the platform for those voices to come together, they became the loudspeaker that made local action global.
The preamble to the Earth Charter puts it better than we ever could. “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.” If we want a better world, we need all hands on deck,we need everyone out in the streets joined in one voice. We need to start movements.
We need 350.