On October 24, 2009 350.org is promoting a worldwide day of action to raise awareness of global climate change. An environmental group in Warrensburg is participating and helping raise awareness about the event.

Understanding 350

…* So, what is global warming and what’s the problem anyway?

     The science is clear: global warming is happening faster than ever and humans are responsible. Global warming is caused by releasing what are called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. Many of the activities we do every day like turn the lights on, cook food, or heat or cool our homes rely on energy sources like coal and oil that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. This is a major problem because global warming destabilizes the delicate balance that makes life on this planet possible. Just a few degrees in temperature can completely change the world as we know it, and threaten the lives of millions of people around the world. But don’t give up hope! You can help stop global warming by taking action here at 350.org.

   * And what does this 350 number even mean?

     350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide–measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350 PPM–it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change….

A Warrensburg resident is doing her part to reduce her carbon footprint.

Understanding 350

…* If we’re already past 350, are we all doomed?

     No. We’re like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns he’s overweight, or his cholesterol is too high. He doesn’t die immediately-but until he changes his lifestyle and gets back down to the safe zone, he’s at more risk for heart attack or stroke. The planet is in its danger zone because we’ve poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we’re starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.

   * How do we create the political change to steer towards 350?

     We need an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions fast, and 2009 might be our best shot.

     The United Nations is working on a global climate treaty, which is supposed to be completed in December of 2009 at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. But the current plans for the treaty are much too weak to get us back to safety. This treaty needs to put a high enough price on carbon that we stop using so much. It also needs to ensure poor countries a fair chance to develop.

     This year, we can create a grassroots movement connected by the web and active all over the world.

     We can hold our decision-makers accountable to producing a treaty that is strong, equitable, and grounded in the latest science. On 24 October, we’re holding a Global Day of Climate Action to do just this.

     If this global movement succeeds, we can get the world on track to get back to 350 and back to climate safety. It won’t be easy, that’s why we need all the help we can get.

   * How do we get the world on track to get to 350?

     We need an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions fast. The United Nations is working on a treaty, which is supposed to be completed in December of 2009 at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. But the current plans for the treaty are much too weak to get us back to safety. This treaty needs to put a high enough price on carbon that we stop using so much. It also needs to make sure that poor countries are ensured a fair chance to develop.

   * How do we actually reduce carbon emissions to get to 350?

     Make no mistake–getting back to 350 means transforming our world. It means building solar arrays instead of coal plants, it means planting trees instead of clear-cutting rainforests, it means increasing efficiency and decreasing our waste. Getting to 350 means developing a thousand different solutions–all of which will become much easier if we have a global treaty grounded in the latest science and built around the principles of equity and justice. To get this kind of treaty, we need a movement of people who care enough about our shared global future to get involved and make their voices heard.

   * Will this thing work? Will world leaders listen?

     Only if we’re loud enough.

     If we can make this number known across the planet, that mere fact will exert some real pressure on negotiators. We need people to understand that 350 marks either success or failure for these climate negotiations. It’s not an easy fight-the other side has the power of the fossil fuel industry. But we think the voice of ordinary people will be heard, if it’s loud enough. That’s all of our job-to make enough noise that we can’t be easily ignored.

   * Where did this 350 number come from?

     Dr. James Hansen, of NASA, the United States’ space agency, has been researching global warming longer than just about anyone else. He was the first to publicly testify before the U.S. Congress, in June of 1988, that global warming was real. He and his colleagues have used both real-world observation, computer simulation, and mountains of data about ancient climates to calculate what constitutes dangerous quantities of carbon in the atmosphere. The Bush Administration has tried to keep Hansen and his team from speaking publicly, but their analysis has been widely praised by other scientists, and by experts like Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. The full text of James Hansen’s paper about 350 can be found here.

   * Isn’t America the biggest source of the problem? What about China and India?

     Yes-America has been producing more CO2 than any other country, and leads the industrialized world in per capita emissions. Even though China now produces as much CO2 annually, the US still produces many times more carbon per person than China, India, and most other countries. And America has blocked meaningful international action for many years. That’s why many of us at 350.org have worked hard to change U.S. policy-we staged more than 2,000 demonstrations in all 50 states in 2007, and helped spur Congress to pass the first real laws to reduce CO2. Now we need help from around the world to persuade both the U.S. and the U.N. to continue the process.

     China and India and the rest of the developing world need to be involved. But since per capita they use far less energy than the West, and have been doing so for much shorter periods of time, and are using fossil fuels to pull people out of poverty, their involvement needs to be different. The West is going to have to use some tiny percentage of the wealth it built up filling the atmosphere with carbon to transfer technology north to south so that these countries can meet their legitimate development needs without burning all their coal. A great resource for thinking about these questions is the paper prepared by the Greenhouse Rights Network, which can be found here.

   * 350 is just a number. Wouldn’t “Climate Emergency” or “Clean Energy Now” be a better call to action?

     350 translates into many languages–numerals are among the few things most people around the world recognize. More to the point, 350 tells us what we need
to do. Far from boring, it’s the most important number in the world. It contains, rightly understood, the recipe for a very different world, one that moves past cheap fossil fuel to more sensible technologies, more closely-knit communities, and a more equitable global society.

This human powered vehicle weighs approximately one hundred pounds. There are six forward gears (and the owner tells me reverse is a “Flintstones” gear), hand brakes, a pedal crank for driver and passenger, and plenty of room for cargo.

We took a spin around the block in downtown Warrensburg this afternoon. Pedaling uphill in first gear isn’t too bad, but you do have to work. When you’re going downhill you can really move at quite a clip – and it’s a lot less work.