Branding Climate Change: Power Shift and 350.org Make it Personal and Local

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Bill McKibben’s impassioned speech at Power Shift 2011, seen above, began with a call to arms: “All right, listen up. Very few people can ever say that they are in the single most important place they could possibly be doing the single most important thing they could possibly be doing. That’s you, here, now.”

McKibben, the former New Yorker staff writer and author of The End of Nature, among other books, has been called “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” by the Boston Globe and described by TIME magazine as “the world’s best green journalist.”

Nowadays, he’s busy organizing 350.org in 2009 as a global grassroots movement to solve climate crisis, a name derived from the need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm.

With Earth Day more or less devolved into a day of appreciating the planet and far removed from the mass protest from which it sprang in 1970, McKibben and his cohorts are hoping, this time, to get the branding of an earth-changing (and -saving) movement right.[more]  

The Washington, D.C. event, the third Power Shift conference, drew 10,000 climate change activists, many quite young, for “the largest grassroots training event in the nation’s history,” and called for a shift from climate change as a global issue to a local, personal initiative. 

Speakers included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, former green jobs czar Van Jones, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and former VP Al Gore who said to the crowd, according to the New York Times: “There are four anti-climate lobbyists on Capitol Hill in this city for every single member of the House and every single member of the Senate. What is the answer for this? It has to come from you. It has to come at the grassroots level.”  

Attendees were upbeat at the previous Power Shift when Obama, for whom many had campaigned, took office, but now, two years later, they are frustrated and disappointed with Obama’s energy policies and see large-scale climate legislation as a fading option in the current political climate.

Courtney Hight, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition that produced Power Shift went to a White House meeting last Friday with other ten activists – some as young as 18, and expected to meet with the president’s designates, until Obama walked in and spent 30 minutes with them.

On their agenda, criticism of Obama’s inclusion of clean coal, natural gas and nuclear in his “clean energy economy” – something activists consider a misrepresentation. The meeting ended with “Obama acknowledging that it’s his role to govern and the activists’ role to pressure him,” Hight told the New York Times.

McKibben went on to say, “Twenty-two years ago, I wrote the first book about climate change and I’ve gotten to watch it all, and I know that simply persuasion will not do. We need to fight. Now, we need to fight non-violently and with civil disobedience… So far, we’ve raised the temperature of the planet one degree and that’s done all that I’ve described, it’s melted the arctic, it’s changed the oceans. The climatologists tell us that unless we act with great speed and courage that one degree will be five degrees before this century is out. And if we do that, then the world that we leave behind will be a ruined world.”

Now it’s the next generation’s turn to assume the mantle of an unfinished legacy begun in 1970 when Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. Maybe this time, 41 years later, people will get it — and do something.

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