“No country better symbolizes the paradoxes of the age” – Canada, Climate Change & 350.org

Today’s Guest Post is by Bill McKibben*, Senior Advisor and Co-Founder, 350.org

350.org is about a decade old now, and from small beginnings (seven college students and one professor in Vermont) it has become the planet’s first global grassroots climate change campaign. We’ve organized about 20,000 demonstrations in every country on earth except North Korea—and much of that work has been a kind of ongoing climate education.

It began with the name we took.

350.org is a slightly odd moniker. It’s derived from a scientific data point, perhaps the most important number on the planet. In the fall of 2008, scientists led by NASA’s Jim Hansen established that 350 parts per million carbon dioxide was the most we could safely have in the atmosphere. We’ve burned so much coal and oil and gas that we’re already well past the number: our air now contains more than 400 ppm co2, a figure that rises 2 or 3 ppm every single year.

That’s why we’re missing half the summer sea ice in the Arctic, why our coral reefs are dying at an insane pace, why we see forest fires in places formerly unknown.

Red Polar Bear
Courtesy 350.org

And so as we do our work of fighting new pipelines or pushing renewable energy, the very name of the organization serves as a teaching tool. Every time the name gets mentioned, the explanation needs to follow.

It’s a reminder that climate science doesn’t need to be over-explained.

In a sense, it’s enough to know that there’s a safe level of co2 and we’re past it. Perhaps the best analogy is to visiting the doctor—when he tells you your cholesterol is too high, you don’t need a seminar on the lipid system to understand you’ve got a problem.

Water Ceremony at Kinder Morgan. Courtesy 350.org

We love to collaborate with others in this fight—with scientists, and also with those on the front lines of climate change. In Canada that’s often meant First Nations people, who have been leaders in fighting destructive projects and in bringing renewable energy to communities that need it.

No country better symbolizes the paradoxes of the age: landscapes exquisitely vulnerable to heating, a general commitment to environmental progress—and a  reluctance to take the necessary step of leaving oil in the ground.

It makes for a fascinating story.

* Bill McKibben writes about climate change and the environment, founded 350.org, and is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. He has written a dozen books about the environment, including his first, The End of Nature, published 25 years ago, and his most recent, Radio Free Vermont.

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