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Earth

A global work 'party' for climate action

Text by Thibault Worth

Latest update : 2010-10-21

Environmentalists rallied globally Sunday hoping to pressure governments to enact climate change legislation. This tree planting event in Afghanistan was among over 7,300 actions coordinated over the Internet. (Photo: Fakhruddin Wali)

Environmental organizations across the world joined together Sunday in what was potentially the world’s largest ever call for action on climate change and a compelling example of the power of the Internet to organize activist movements.

According to 350.org - the organization that coordinated the so-called ‘Global Work Party’ - over 7,300 events took place around the world, dozens of them in France.
 
In Paris, the environmental group 10:10, which partnered with 350.org, held a rally and concert at the Hôtel de Ville.
 
In Petit Bayonne, in Basque country, citizens erected a “post-carbon” village where refurbished old bicycles were sold on the cheap, and visitors instructed on how to switch to banks with better environmental track records.
 
Around the world, activists expressed their dissatisfaction with the failed Copenhagen climate talks last December, and decried a dirth of political will to reign in greenhouse gas emissions since.
 
VIDEO: Yann Arthus-Bertrand speaking at 10:10 rally in Paris

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“We are being guided by politicians, not leaders,” organizer Yann Arthus-Bertrand told FRANCE 24 ahead the rally. “If we rely on them, nothing is going to happen.”
 
At rallies in Istambul and Mexico City, participants numbered into the thousands.   At the many smaller events, ‘partiers’ banded together to dig community gardens, install solar panels, or commit themselves to scrapping energy-inefficient old appliances.
 
In Dubai, UAE, 16-year-old Rishi Avala teamed up with environmental celebrity, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, known as “the Green Sheikh”, to host a light-bulb exchange.
 
In Beijing, a group picked up trash across the city.
 
In the Paghnan Valley near Kabul, Sayed Masood, 26, led a group of 20 youths in planted trees.
 
“Climate does not recognize any boundary,” Masood told FRANCE 24 after the event. “It is we who have to recognize our part.”
 
People powered movement
 
350.org was founded two years ago by American author and environmentalist Bill McKibben.
 
The name comes from 350 parts per million. That’s the maximum safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to many prominent climate scientists.
Beyond that threshold, they say, and we will see melting ice caps, rising seas, more extreme weather events, droughts, and crop failures.
 
The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured 390 p.p.m. this year, the highest level ever recorded. 
 
350.org has made a return 350 p.p.m. its raison d’être.
 
“We were worried at first,” McKibben told FRANCE 24 of the choice of name. “People told us the science it too complicated - that people won’t understand it.”
 
The 70s solar panels
 
350.org animation
In 2008, 350.org launched a 90 second web animation that explained the 350 p.p.m. scientific target without using words.
 
To attract followers, McKibben has also used storytelling to cultivate a shared sense of mission with members.
 
“They’re definitely doing some basic things right in terms of social media,” says Eric Antebi, a public interest media consultant with San Francisco-based Fenton.
 
In September, McKibben drove to Washington, D.C. with a set of solar panel that President Jimmy Carter had placed on the White House roof in the 1970s.
 
His goal: a meeting with President Barack Obama to make the case for him to put state-of-the-art panels back up.
 
In truth, McKibben had already been in touch with White House planners, who told him Obama was considering the idea. But when McKibben got to Washington, D.C., he was told Obama was not availableto meet him.
 
McKibben emailed 350.org members; leveraging the episode to further his case that politicians are out of touch on global warming, and need prodding from the grassroots.
 
From online to outdoors
 
From the beginning, 350.org has worked using only websites, social networking tools, and a largely volunteer team around the world.
 
“We started making up our online strategy before we ever really knew that there was such a thing as paid media consultants,” communications director Jamie Henn told FRANCE 24.
 
The strategy has worked nonetheless.  As of last Friday, the organization had about 112,000 Facebook fans and 18,000 Twitter followers. That’s double last year’s figures. 
 
The ‘Global Work Party’ also tallied 2,000 more events than last year’s event.
 
But the numbers beg a question: how successful will the ‘Global Work Party’ - and similar events in the future - be in influencing political will.
 
“In itself, it won’t be enough,” says Antebi, “but this type of thing is a prerequisite for cultivating a culture that will drive bigger institutional change.”
 
In a lucky break last week, the White House announced that Obama would place solar panels on the roof after all.
 
The next day, the president of the Maldives announced he would follow suit by putting solar panels on his roof.
 
Big institutional changes? Perhaps just the beginnings. But McKibben was pleased nonetheless.
 
“At the very least, we demonstrated there was widespread enthusiasm.”

Date created : 2010-10-11

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