Bill McKibben on Movement Building

Last week I sat in on a conference-call discussion between Bill McKibben and about a dozen bloggers from various backgrounds (Motherhood Uncensored to No-Impact Man). We talked about a lot of things, but mostly we talked about

McKibben's newest campaign, which has soft-launched already in at least 13 languages, will officially go live on June 9. The point is to get the number 350 on the lips of citizens and policy-makers across the globe – as in, 350 parts per million, the ratio of CO2 that can safely exist in the Earth's atmosphere before we begin to cook ourselves (click here for more history behind determining that number). At this point, 350 is not a target looming in the distance. Instead, it is a bit of wistful nostalgia: the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 383 ppm. We need to bring it back down, which is only possible if we cut back our greenhouse gas emissions and let the Earth naturally cleanse its atmosphere until the healthy ratio is restored.

The 350 website is a collection of local efforts to bring attention to the number itself, with the goal of making it a household term. The higher aim is to bring awareness of the problem, get people fired up, and, ultimately, shift public support in favor of aggressive policy before the UN meets in Copenhagen in December 2009 to finalize plans for the agreement that will succeed Kyoto. The goal is similar to that of Bill McKibben's previous movement-building campaign, Step It Up, which from 2006-2007 helped spread the message to representatives on Capitol Hill that we need to work to cut carbon 80% by 2050, and eventually helped launched the movement that is now 1Sky.

McKibben told his audience of bloggers, "The thing to always remember about democratic political systems is that it doesn't take 51% to get change done." He recalled the Civil Rights movement, saying, "I would wager we never had more than 1% of Americans engaged in going to a demonstration [during that time], and it was more than enough to change the political culture."

As for the role of bloggers? McKibben acknowledges that since movements run on a lot of emotional fuel, while the blogosphere generally prides itself on a more technocratic and emotionally removed approach, he thinks that the combination offers some challenges. Of course, he notes, the online and movement-making hero of the day—the Obama presidential campaign--has successfully blended "Internet savvy, policy savvy…and the emotional desire for change."

As an incentive to get the virtual conversation going, Brighter Planet will offset 350 lbs of CO2 for every blogger who posts the "350 Challenge badge" on their site.

You can hear the rest of the conversation between Bill McKibben and the panel of bloggers, as they cover green parenting, meeting with your Congressman, talking to climate skeptics and more, here.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/350


I'll have to admit I was skeptical at first of simply because we're asking the world to put a number in their head and keep it there and that's a tricky task. But it seems 350 is aiming more towards a movement building role than anything else and besides, it's Bill McKibben's newest project and I have great faith in the man. If 350 keeps up with it's open call to climate arms direction it just might make that massive shift happen.

Posted by: on June 12, 2008 12:05 PM