I attended a lecture by Bill McKibben today at Brown University. He’s a well-known environmentalist and author; he’s also leading the 350.org movement, which I’ll go into a little later.
The lecture itself, which was about climate change, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. McKibben gave statistics, mentioned the immediate and future effects of climate change and what we can do. The interesting part is the way he approached climate change. I’ve heard numerous speakers go on this subject, whether its Nathan Shedroff, author of Design is the Problem, or Al Gore (through An Inconvenient Truth). Some like to reinforce the part that the individuals part within their local community, such as rallying their neighbors to change their lifestyles, and others demand that we change the way business is done. McKibben seems to be saying: if we can’t get everyone on board and affect change on a global scale, then the changes we make a local scale won’t be effective.
What happens afterward for McKibben is 350.org. It’s an organization that is trying to get people around the world to gather around 350ppm as a target goal for our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels ( it’s currently around 391ppm), and it plans to bring the movement to leaders and businesses. It’s been a wildly successful movement – people in every country with the exception of North Korea (darn it) have participated in rallies. There’s another one, in fact, on September 24th this year.
After the lecture, I felt like I needed to reorganize my brain a little bit. Climage change is such a complex topic – socially, politically and economically, and everyone has a different proposal for how to fix it. McKibben mentioned during his talk that eventually, instead of embracing economic growth – we would value durability. But why shouldn’t economic growth happen in a good way? After all, that was William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s point in Cradle to Cradle. There are plenty of other people (e. g. Paul Hawken) suggesting that we build our economy so that it revolves around our ecosystem vs simply our profits.
I think growth can and should continue. If we, “developed nations,” can lead in creating sustainable models of growth that are better for the planet, perhaps developing nations will see that there is another way. But if we continue sending the opposite message out to the world, which is that we’re going to pollute, because we can afford it, then nothing will get done.
It’s a tragedy that half the country still doesn’t believe in climate change, which leads to believe that most of these rallies, lectures and educational activities going on around the nation are only reaching the ears and eyes of those who want to attend them. I hope that’s not the case, but it seems like it would tend to attract those people (me included) more than Jane Doe, who doesn’t want to know or care.
I wonder too, about the message of 350.org. 350 is a cold, static number. When a young girl in the Phillippines hold up a piece of paper for the camera with “350” written out, does she understand its implications? Or it is just a symbol?
It seems that Earth Week has given me more questions than ever to think about. There is no easy answer, and we all have immediate concerns that relate to our individual survival and goals. However, I did learn that inspite of all of those who haven’t done a thing this week to help the planet, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who do care, thanks to images I saw at McKibben’s lecture today. I know there are many more out there that are waiting for a conversation about this topic to come up so that they can share their passion with others.