by Monique BoschWestport residents ignored torrential rain and headed for Compo beach at dawn Saturday, October 24th, to participate in the International Day of Climate Action. It marked the largest day of environmental action in history. Westport was only one in over 5,000 events that took place in 181 countries around the world. A sudden unexpected clearing of the skies rewarded those who braved the weather.
Local musicians serenaded the group over coffee and donuts as beach towels forming 3-5-0 were arranged on the sand. The number, 350 parts per million (ppm), signifies the level scientists say is the safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere. We are currently at 390 ppm.
As 350.org organizer Bill McKibben explained, we now have a tangible goal, a number to strive for. “This number is attainable, but it will take a global effort to get there,” he said. McKibben is an author, educator and environmentalist spearheading the effort to bring the world together to solve the climate crisis.
David Vita, Director of Social Justice at the Unitarian Church in Westport, talked about the meaning of the event. “What was significant to me was that while we can talk about being connected, this was real,” he said. “Knowing that all of these actions were taking place in all of these countries, speaking different languages and all saying the same thing, now that’s powerful, to be part of that.”
On hand were first Selectman Gordon Joseloff, State Senator Toni Boucher and highly acclaimed environmentalist Russ Brenneman. Brenneman encouraged Westport climate-change activists to see themselves as members of a worldwide community of change makers.
Reacting to the incredible outpouring of international support for the 350.org movement, McKibben commented, “In the last couple of days it’s as if the planet’s immune system suddenly kicked in. It’s as if the kind of antibodies that are represented by conscious citizens are beginning to isolate the threat, trying to take some action. And it’s really important for people to now take political action.”
Although we took part in the largest global action ever attempted, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press just released figures painting a different picture. The data shows a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. Fewer Americans also see global warming as a very serious problem, down 11% from 18 months ago.
Environmental concerns in general have diminished in the presence of other issues commanding public attention, such as the economy, threats of war and health care. In Westport, local issues have been spotlighted, such as land use and lights on sports fields.
“Meanwhile there is more and more data showing beyond doubt that the planet is warming,” said Brenneman. “Although the science is not totally understood, we do know the magnitude of human contributions to global warming. We also know that it’s imperative that humans do what can be done because if we wait until we reach total consensus it will be too late.”
McKibben said the single simple message is to remind leaders that in the end this is about the science. “There’s nothing more important on earth, so we might as well get down to it.”
For more information or to view images of 3-5-0 in communities around the world, visit www.350.org. These images were shown at Times Square last Saturday and will be used in the run-up to the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December.
Photos courtesy of Laureen Vellante and David Vita.