350: A Number to Save Us from Climate Chaos?


Sea Change Climate Correspondent Cimbria Badenhausen covers the International Day of Climate Action by talking beforehand with 350.org Director Bill McKibben.  The Bioneers by the Bay Conference celebrated Climate Action Day with a 350 event MC’ed by rapper Tem Blessed, featuring talks by Callum Grieve of the Climate Group and Marty Driggs, a member of the Youth Initiative Planning Committee for the Bioneers by the Bay Conference.  Also at Bioneers, Cimbria caught up with sustainability guru Paul Hawken, who told Cimbria of the Arctic trip that Scandinavian royalty invited him to attend, to witness and study the impacts of climate change.  And finally, ZipCar Founder Robin Chase describes the controversial “Supermodels Strip for Climate Action” video her daughter conceived and produced.

“The longer I’ve spent working on global warming — the greatest challenge humans have ever faced — the more I’ve come to see it as essentially a literary problem.  A technological and scientific challenge, yes; an economic quandry, yes; a political dilemma, surely.  But centrally?  A crisis in metaphor, in analogy, in understanding.”  So wrote Bill McKibben in the August 2008 edition of Orion Magazine in an essay entitled, “When Words Fail.”  And, indeed, words do fail to capture the enormity of this slow-creeping, almost invisible crisis, McKibben discovered.  “Boiling point?” Nope.  “Climate chaos?”  Uh uh.

JamesHansenIt was James Hansen, who McKibben calls “our greatest climatologist,” who solved the literary problem — with a number.  In December 2007, he presented a paper at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco that “named a number,” McKibben says.  350, to be precise — parts per million carbon in the atmosphere, that is.  “That, [Hansen] said, was the absolute upper bound of anything like safety — above it and the planet would be unraveling.  Is unraveling, because we’re already at 385 parts per million,” McKibben wrote over a year ago.

A number!  It translates into all tongues.  And, it gave birth to the organization McKibben now heads: 350.org, whose mission is to “tattoo that number into every human brain.”  And that’s exactly what we all did on October 24, the International Day of Climate Action, which featured over 52 hundred [5,200] grassroots events in 181 countries to become the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history, ” according to CNN.

BillMcKibbenThe week before the big event, Sea Change Correspondent Cimbria Badenhausen caught up with Bill McKibben at the Relocalize Massachusetts Conference in Roxbury.

TemBlessedOn the International Day of Climate Action, Cimbria attended the Bioneers by the Bay Conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which hosted its own 350 event, hosted by rapper Tem Blessed.  After working up the crowd, Blessed introduced Callum Grieve of the Climate Group and former executive director of the Marion Institute, who helped set the broader context for the day’s actions.

CallumGrieveMarty-PhotoNext, 24-year-old Marty Driggs, a member of the Youth Initiative Planning Committee for the Bioneers by the Bay Conference, made an impassioned call for action.

After his keynote address, sustainability guru Paul Hawken spoke with Sea Change Correspondent Cimbria Badenhausen, who asked about his recent Arctic trip with Scandinavian royalty to witness and study climate impacts.PaulHawken

RobinChaseFinally, at Bioneers Cimbria spoke with Robin Chase, who founded ZipCar, the company that helps cut carbon emissions by renting out efficient cars for short stints.  Chase describes an innovative — and controversial — effort by her supermodel daughter to make climate action a little more sexy.

Interestingly, the video has drawn a mixed response.  Joe Brewer of Cognitive Policy Works posted a positive analysis of the “visual metaphors and conceptual frames to show how insights into human cognition are vital for effective climate action” on Truthout.  However, check out the comments section of this post on the Sierra Club Green Life blog for negative feedback on the sexism of video.

Thanks to Kevin Kertscher of Indigo Studios and Joanna Harcourt-Smith of the Marion Institute for assisting in the interview process at Bioneers by the Bay 2009, and to David Ludlow and organizers of Relocalize Massachusetts for helping to arrange the interview with Bill McKibben.

CloudInstituteSpecial thanks to our Climate Coverage Sponsor, Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education.

About Bill Baue

Bill Baue is Co-Director of Sea Change Media, a non-profit that makes connections in the shift to social, environmental, and economic sustainability. He co-hosts/produces Sea Change Radio, a nationally syndicated show that podcasts globally.