By Louis Lucero, Los Angeles Times
“Dear World,” begins an open letter from environmentalist Bill McKibben that’s posted on climate crisis website 350.org. In it, he proposes a response to what he calls “a tough year” marked by unprecedented rates of glacial retreat in the Arctic, devastating erosion in Latin America, record-breaking temperatures globally — and an almost complete failure to do anything about it.
His suggestion? Throw a party.
“Circle 10/10/10 on your calendar,” reads the invitation. “That’s the date. The place is wherever you live. And the point is to do something that will help deal with global warming in your city or community.”
The “Global Work Party” is designed to couple grassroots environmental activism with political engagement in communities across the world on Oct. 10, 2010 — 10/10/10.
McKibben, co-founder and director of 350.org, the organization responsible for planning Sunday’s “work party,” put on a political rally last year that CNN called the most widespread day of political action in history. In hopes of lighting a fire beneath world politicians, the scope of this year’s event has expanded to global scale. (As of this writing, 350.org’s Global Work Party, which has been endorsed by public figures including Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and “Juno” actress Ellen Page, has at least one event registered in all but four nations in the world.)
“We need to figure out a way to get our politicians to work,” McKibben said in a phone interview. “We figured one way would be to get to work ourselves, to kind of provide the model, and so all over the world people will be doing very useful things in their community.”
While the ideas for local projects that are suggested on the website run the gamut from the manageable — planting trees and picking up trash — to the ambitious — installing solar panels and erecting wind turbines — McKibben is quick to emphasize the importance of pairing hands-on work with political action.
“Whether they’ve been putting up solar panels or digging community gardens, at the end of the day they’ll pick up their cellphone, they’ll call their leaders and they’ll say, ‘Look, we’re getting to work; time for you guys to do the same,'” McKibben said.
According to the event website, hundreds of work parties and gatherings have been organized in the greater Los Angeles area for the Sunday event, including a free tire pressure check on Olympic Boulevard, a bicycle repair workshop in Manhattan Beach, and a grocery bag exchange program in Culver City at which people can swap 10 single-use plastic bags for one reusable canvas one.
One of the biggest L.A. events will be a rally at City Hall called “Kick Coal and Oil out of L.A.” co-hosted by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club as a part of the club’s own ongoing Beyond Coal campaign.
“We’re looking to responsibly phase out coal-fired power and replace it with sustainable, clean energy and projects that will create jobs and provide reliable power,” said David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club’s associate press secretary.
According to Graham-Caso, the campaign has successfully put an end to plans for 139 new coal-fired plants of the 150 that were proposed across the country during the Bush administration. In L.A., the “Beyond Coal” campaign is now seeking to ensure that the L.A. Department of Water and Power acts on a pledge made by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his second inaugural address to strive for a coal-free L.A.
Beverly Hills High School 11th-grader Maddie Grossan is coordinating an event called “90210 Does 350” in which participants — many of whom she expects to be classmates — will construct a “forest” of trees made from repurposed plastic bottles. Participants will also take a group photo holding a sign pledging to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in the coming year.
“My high school is a very iconic symbol of Beverly Hills, and I hope to send a clear message to politicians that we are ready to embrace sustainable solutions,” Grossan said.
A complete list of area events is available on http://www.350.org. Visitors can use the site’s search feature to specify their location and quickly sort through the thousands of events planned in the 188 participating countries.
McKibben’s 1989 book “The End of Nature” was the first on climate change to be written for a general audience, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that the Harvard alumnus began to worry that awareness wasn’t spreading fast enough. The name of his organization, 350.org, is a reference to what McKibben often calls “the most important number in the world.” In December 2007, a team of NASA scientists led by Jim Hansen presented the American Geophysical Union with the first hard figure for acceptable levels of atmospheric CO2, above which global warming would be dangerously out of control: 350 parts per million. Current levels are estimated at 390 parts per million.
Page recently recorded a video promoting the events of 10/10/10, in which the Canadian actress touches on many disasters possibly related to global warming.
“We are already seeing the impacts of climate change,” Page says in the video. “Look at the floods in Pakistan; look at what happened in the Gulf of Mexico — a clear cost of our dependency on dirty energy.”
Page was more than happy to lend her name to the project. A longtime fan, she calls McKibben’s writing “one of the biggest kicks … for me, personally.” She also cites the work of her Canadian colleague David Suzuki, a highly respected scientist and host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s perennially popular science program “The Nature of Things.”
Page’s promo video was posted to 350.org only a few days before a video by an unaffiliated U.K. environmental group called 10:10 surfaced on YouTube. Although the video, which featured the gory explosion of schoolchildren who voiced their skepticism about climate change, has since been pulled from YouTube by its creators, McKibben was quick to denounce it on his website.
“Climate skeptics are going to make a big deal of this,” read the post. “The video represents the kind of stupidity that really hurts our side, reinforcing in people’s minds a series of preconceived notions, not the least of which is that we’re out-of-control elitists. Not to mention crazy, and also with a completely misplaced sense of humor.”
But 350.org’s efforts don’t appear to have been derailed by the blood-spattered ad campaign — after breaking last year’s record of 5,500 work parties, with more than 6,800 registered this year, McKibben feels confident that Oct. 10 will make a difference.
“We have millions of people out doing useful things,” McKibben said. “It’ll be beautiful to see.”
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