San Francisco: 350 Climate Action
350 parts per million. That’s the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond which many scientists warn the earth’s climate may begin to spiral out of control. At higher concentrations, they say, heat-reflecting ice sheets will disappear and permafrost will melt, releasing vast amounts of additional greenhouse gases and driving sea levels higher in a vicious cycle. The earth’s atmosphere is currently at around 380 parts per million, and climbing.
For a young international movement, 350 is a rallying cry, an organizing principle. On October 24th, climate activists in over 180 countries with the group 350.org staged more than 5,200 demonstrations, pressuring world leaders to take meaningful action on global warming at upcoming United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. In San Francisco, a ride of 350 cyclists in snorkels and flippers gathered at a downtown rally and traced a route through Bay-side neighborhoods threatened by rising sea levels.
Critics of the movement say the goal of stabilizing the atmosphere is too ambitious, and that even a cap of 450 parts per million would be difficult to achieve with curbs on carbon emissions. But the heated debate on the political possibilities of climate action is up against cold, hard, science.
The head of UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, recently endorsed the goal of cutting emissions to 350 parts per million or less. Pachauri, who in 2007 split the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, was not able to advocate for any specific goals as chair of the IPCC, “but as a human being I am fully supportive of that goal. What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target."
Lauren Thorpe: [0:07] I am out here today as taking part in the largest day of political action in the planet's history, and we're out here today calling on our leaders for strong action on global warming. So we're out here calling for 350, which is the safe level of carbon in the atmosphere, which will prevent climate chaos. [music]
Zack Norwood: [0:31] My name is Zack, and I'm wearing flippers, because we're riding underwater. This is the future coastline of San Francisco, after global climate change causes the oceans to rise.
Lisa Ruth Elliott: [0:41] We are doing a 3.5-mile bike ride around a future predicted shoreline. So we're here out here showing what it means to have no emissions on bicycles, and just to show those people on the ride, and people who are meeting us along the route, what it would look like if the waters were covering already part of the city that we take for granted as being here.
Eric Smith: [1:02] Climate change affects everyone, particularly folks in poorer nations, and so this is an opportunity to bring awareness to that.
Lauren Thorpe: [1:12] So there are over 5,200 events happening all around the world today in 181 countries. [music]
Lauren Thorpe: [1:26] It started about 17 hours ago, as the sun rose over New Zealand. So they did a hike up one of their mountains for sunrise, and were holding up the number 350.
Speaker: [1:35] We're at a turning point in history. Never before has humanity and all those that we share this planet with faced such a massive challenge.
Lauren Thorpe: [1:46] In Australia, there was a big 350 Action on the steps of the Opera House. The Philippines planted 350 trees today. [music] [1:58] Ethiopia this morning had a 15,000-person march led by students all holding little pieces of paper that said 350 on it. [music]
[2:10] The President of the Maldives led 350 people in a scuba dive, showing that their country is going to be completely under water if the world doesn't act.
Ross Mirkarimi: [2:21] It is absolutely inspiring that there are hundreds and hundreds of cities who are having concurrent actions like this, and that there are veterans of this movement and newcomers of this moment, generations of this movement to save our environment, to save endangered habitats, to save humanity, to save our Mother Earth, because they realize that the clocks ticks for us. [music]
Lauren Thorpe: [2:47] We need strong, bold leadership from our President, so we're out here calling on him today, and we're going to continue calling on President Obama until he goes to the U.N. Climate Talks in Copenhagen and negotiates for a fair, ambitious and binding treaty. [music]