What makes a news story? A boy not in a balloon — or a genuinely ballooning effort to achieve 350 ppm?

Clearly, pretending to loft your kid across the countryside in a balloon is the big story.

But what about the fairly extraordinary effort that the kids at and Bill McKibben are mounting next weekend?

They’ve taken serious scientific analysis””the contention first raised by Jim Hansen that 350 ppm co2 is the target we should be aiming for””and turned it into a real movement. On Saturday, their day of global action, there will be at least 3,800 events and rallies and demonstrations in almost 170 countries. It’ll be one of the most widespread days of political action in the planet’s history.  People are rallying all over the place:

  • in Kabul
  • in Iraq
  • in the coup-ridden capital of Honduras
  • on the shores of the dwindling Dead Sea, Israeli activists will make a giant human 3 on their beach, Palestinians a huge 5 on their shore, and the Jordanians a 0 on theirs.
  • across the U.S.””there will be at least a thousand actions, one of the best chances to make a loud cry for strengthening the climate bills on Capitol Hill.   There’s one near you””here’s a link that will show you what’s going on in your neighborhood.
  • in China, where there will be at least 300 rallies””this is something new for the Chinese people, to be part of a global environmental movement. And with the leading environmental groups, top Chinese websites, and famous universities on board, it’s got full support from top to bottom.  Here’s the website up in Mandarin.

They’ve gotten plenty of coverage in the blogosphere, and in the foreign press:

  • If you read Spanish, go here
  • Arabic here
  • Russian here
  • or English, but in India, here.

But in the bigtime U.S. press? So far nothing much.

Maybe editors think it’s too complicated””that people can’t deal with that much science. But clearly they can””and as I pointed out last week, given new research like Tripati’s paper in Science they’re going to have to (see Science: CO2 levels haven’t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher “” “We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm”).

We’re not going to get back to 350 anytime soon, obviously, but it’s a good sign that people all over the world are calling for it. And a bad sign that our press, who have plenty of time to deal with the political realism of climate, seem to think that scientific realism is hopelessly idealistic. As Bill McKibben keeps saying, Republicans and Democrats need to negotiate, and Americans and Chinese””but at root, it’s a debate between human beings on the one hand and physics and chemistry on the other.

Take a look at the slideshow of stuff that’s already happened””this is a small taste of what the weekend will bring. It’s what a movement looks like, and it’s about time.  We’ll see thousands more of these images on Saturday””the question is whether newspaper readers and tv viewers will see them too.

For the science behind 350, see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al.” Since the science is preliminary and it is not not yet politically possible to get to 450 ppm, let alone 350, my basic view is, let’s start working now toward stabilizing below 450 ppm.  I think we will need ultimately to get back to 350, and the faster the better.  But since it ain’t easy, I hope climate scientists will shed more light on how fast is really needed.  Either way, this is what needs to be done technology-wise:  “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated).”  The difference between the two targets is that for 450 ppm, you need to do the 12-14 wedges in four decades.  For 350 ppm, you (roughly) need 8 wedges in about two decades plus another 10 wedges over the next three decades (and then have the world go carbon negative as soon as possible after that), which requires a global WWII-style and WWII-scale strategy (see “An open letter to James Hansen on the real truth about stabilizing at 350 ppm“).

The great environmental writer and founder of, Bill McKibben, helped me research this post

14 Responses to What makes a news story? A boy not in a balloon — or a genuinely ballooning effort to achieve 350 ppm?

  1. Many many thanks for this Joe–and we just went past 4,000 events and 170 countries. it’s gone very viral, and everyone with an email account can help spread it further and faster. And especially pester the press to actually give it some attention!

  2. Richard Brenne says:

    350 six-year-olds in 350 balloons forming a 350 before hitting power lines – that would be a story.

    I just came from a meeting with Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongoski, who asked for one of the posters of our Chautauqua event, Bill, and is well aware and supportive of 350. And Oregon’s next governor, hopefully Bill Bradbury, gets it better than any politician I know since Gore.

    I wrote an op-ed in the Oregonian during our record heat wave this summer and then the Oregonian published another op-ed by a denier for the “balance” that is imbalance. He said the Earth is cooling. So I wrote to every editor at the Oregonian, basically asking them, “Who do you think you are, the Washington Post?”

    I violated the old adage about not arguing with people who buy their ink by the barrel. (Updated adage: Don’t argue with those who count their hits in the millions.)

    So the op-ed editor called and wrote me an apology and they published a really great op-ed taking up most of the Sunday op-ed front page by a Reed College professor with a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry from Cal Tech. That article is here:

    All this to say that we each tend to think we’re George Baileys, the character Jimmy Stewart plays in Capra’s 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We’re always tempted to think that what we do makes no difference. But if we always strive to do the right thing and get involved with people like Romm here and McKibben out there, we’ll find that it really is a wonderful life.

    The Potters of the world (in one of those rare moments when karma comes into focus, Cheney looked remarkably like Potter as he left the White House in a wheelchair) want the world to be Pottersville, but if enough of us do enough, it can once again, maybe for our children or their children, be Bedford Falls.

  3. RunawayRose says:

    We have two events Saturday in the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities area – staggered, it’s possible to do both – and a local columnist for the Quad City Times is covering them.

    I know, that’s not the same as the national press, but at least people around here will hear about it.

  4. paulm says:

    THis is why the Columbia environmental course is closing down cause the us MSM sucks ….

  5. James Newberry says:

    Three historic churches will ring their bells at 3:50, Sat. 10/24 while people gather for a rally on the New Haven Green next to Yale University.
    150 years ago a fellow named Drake had some oily goop analysed at Yale and thus began the Age of Oil. He carried the stuff in whiskey barrels, 42 gallons each, the measurement to this day. Here’s to the end of the age of burning mined hydrocarbons.

  6. Roger says:

    Thanks for covering what Bill and the crew are doing, Joe.

    Not everyone may feel that we have much chance of getting to 350ppm anytime soon, but if we would all pull in the SAME DIRECTION, we’d at least be pulling the arrow on the CO2 meter DOWN–a good thing to do!

    And that’s what really counts right now. It seems that too many in the climate movement have been quibbling over their different views of the ‘fine print’ in one of our unwritten social contracts, namely to preserve a livable climate. As we quibble, we teeter on the abyss.

  7. Roger says:


    NEW YORK, October 24: In a publicity stunt gone terribly wrong, a six-year-old polar bear named Barry was accidently lifted into the sky by 350 helium-filled baloons on Saturday.

    Organizers were unable to explain how the baloons broke loose from the Central Park-based model melting glacier to which they were attached.

    Several fighter jets scrambled to give chase, as the Coast Guard was also alerted. Barry had a thin coat, and it was feared that he would suffer from dehydration, fright and hunger if not found soon.

    In a press conference hastily called by the Obama administration, a spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed remorse that the president not acted more swiftly to combat climate change.

    “After that balloon boy incident, we knew that this could blow up into a series of ‘me-too’ escapades,” the spokeswoman said, “but we never thought that anything that was climate change-related would get this level of media attention!”

    Police were interviewing the seven organizers who were responsible for the incident, trying to determine if charges would be filed. Will, a young man who would only give his first name to reporters, said that he was embearassed by the incident.

    At last report, the baloons, Barry and all, were seen floating eastward, over the United Nations building, towards Copenhagen.

  8. I feel like in the last month the discussion has come alive in Minneapolis. I just want to share the story of my friend Kimberly who is hosting a 350 party to celebrate her daughter’s 2nd birthday. What better to give a child than a clear statement that we care about her future, and that we are fighting for it. Makes me want to cry every time I think about it.

    I also want to give a nod to my students who are resisting despair in the face of unbelievable information and are well on track to getting over 1000 postcards signed in support of the climate bill by Saturday the 24th. They are working day and night to spread the message. Check out our MN boycott of big oil too:

  9. Last Saturday most of the large German TV-news programs showed extensive footage of the Maldivian cabinett having their underwater session. Unfortunately, the reports I saw didn’t reference or the upcoming day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. The event seems to “happily” make its way around the internet but not yet into printed media as the newspapers I saw on Monday just had an impressive picture from the cabinet session but not much text to go with it.

    There’ll also be several events in Germany on Saturday and I’m organising one of them in Fellbach – – where I live. It will be interesting to see how much coverage the many (currently 4227 in 170 countries!) large and small events will get over the weekend and early next week.

  10. Leland Palmer says:

    Anything we do to lower CO2 emissions may help, and may keep us this side of one climate tipping point or another.

    The MSM sucks so badly, it’s really not possible for it to be accidental. Major sources of wealth and power in this country appear to want the Arctic ice to melt in the summer, so that they can go after the estimated 22 percent of undiscovered oil deposits left on earth that currently reside under the Arctic icecap.

    The MSM’s choice of newsworthy stories is beyond bad, beyond ridiculous. It has to be deliberate.

  11. JeandeBegles says:

    Thank you Joe for this great post.
    We will do our best in france to support the 350 action day on october 24.
    The churches ringind 350 times would be a powerfull signal. We hope it will do.

  12. JeandeBegles says:

    Thank you Joe for the big picture of this 350 action day.
    In Bordeaux we will bring our contribution (see in french
    It is moving to see all these human attempts to change the course of the events: just do it.

  13. I’ll tell you what makes a news story: WE do.

    The balloon hoax wasn’t a news story and no one I know defines it that way. It was a Time Suck/Budget Saver for the downsized TV news world which made it the perfect programming as far as they were concerned. No real news, so no reporting or news resources necessary. No facts, so no fact checking necessary. Nothing of any meaning happening so no analysis needed. Perfect low cost/high value ratings grabber for MSNBC, Fox, CNN, and the legacy networks.

    But the audience knows it’s junk food eye-candy and they’re not even really watching. They’ve got the TV or on-line video on in the background while they’re texting or talking on the phone or playing a video game.

    But those of us working on 350 events for this Saturday’s International Day of Climate Action know that WE make the news and it’s our job to get it where it needs to go. So we’ve been blogging for months, we’ve been Twittering, we’ve been Facebooking and we’ve been emailing.

    And when I say WE, here in South Bay Los Angeles I mean the 40 different groups we made news with first, back in July when we started teaching them about 350 and gave them the news that got them on board.

    We started with our elected officials – our Congresswoman, our State Senator, our Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the 16 cities of the South Bay Cities Councils of Governments, the Mayors of all our beach cities. We knew they could get us media directly through their press people and that having them supporting and endorsing us would bring us media attention too.

    We then targeted the 50 local schools, and reached not just all the students but all their parents and grandparents through them. Then all our local churches who communicate with their flocks every single week. We reached out to the businesses and they got the word out through their networks. And we reached out to the bigger, broader Los Angeles communities.

    We also have a full-throated volunteer media team doing what you have to do, writing and sending out press advisories, press releases, and science background. Making phone call after phone call to follow up. And remembering to feed the beast real positive news every time we called about new additions to our alliance, new features of our event, new videos and photos of people involved. And we’ve been spoon feeding them the climate research and 350 science every step of the way to make sure they get it right.

    Here’s another example of how we make the news and then get it out there ourselves. Last night I represented our SB 350 Climate Action Group at Torrance City Hall where the City Council passed a resolution supporting and endorsing our Oct 24 event and urging all Torrance citizens to be there. We got back home at 9pm, transferred the TIVo’d clip of the televised council meeting to the computer. Edited it, uploaded it to YouTube and posted a blog piece about it. That’s what our people woke up to this morning and that’s what they’re passing on to their lists and contacts.

    Yesterday morning they woke up to this long piece by Daily Breeze columnist John Bogert in which reported a ton of 350 and science that we had worked for a month feeding him.

    We’ve got our event banners stretched across downtown shopping areas and on PCH where 60,000 cars go by daily. We got our posters up in hundreds of stores. Our fliers are everywhere. Every Farmers Market knows our name and our army of volunteers for weeks now. That’s all part of te local news.

    We know that you can create and build your own media momentum using all the easy tools we have at our disposal and with literally no budget.

    We also try to pay attention and keep learning and thanks to Joe Romm and this blog and Bill McKibben and we’re getting the on-going graduate classes – also free of charge! How cool is that?!

    So instead of just doing a Human Tide Line to demonstrate sea level rise impacts here at our beach, we’re inviting people to be part of “The Amazing Waving Human Tide Line.” It sounds like fun, it’s unique and easy to remember and the media has loved it as a hook. Go ahead and Google that phrase and you’ll see that we have created our own unique brand with that phrase. That was no accident. We thought the TV and video people would love it too because now it’s something alive and moving – something that NEEDS video to be seen best. Can’t do that with just a still shot.

    My friends in the 350 movement, we ARE the media and we will be the ones delivering the 350 news all around the world on Saturday to millions and millions of people in every part of our planet. If we keep our heads down, keep pouring it on and finish the job, the legacy MSM won’t be able to ignore us. Nothing can stop us if we stay Fired Up, Ready to Go!

    See you all on TV. And on the Jumbotron in Times Square.

  14. Roger says:

    Holy cow, CG! You folks in California are giving us a run for the money!
    Kudos to you and your volunteers for all that you are doing there to make your own news, and to then publish it. We’re taking notes here.

    And I thought WE were doing a lot to encourage nearly 30 local towns to congregate for a “Regional Energy Revolution Rally” under the watchful eye of the famed Danial Chester French Minute Man Statue at the iconic Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts on Saturday! (Google Gwenet.)

    President Obama will be in Boston and Cambridge on Friday, and will reportedly give a major climate speech at MIT. We’d hoped that he could attend our rally to hear directly how we are looking to him for strong, U.S. Presidential leadership on this issue–both in Washington, and in Copenhagen, as we’ve expressed also to MA Senator John Kerry.

    Since he couldn’t make it, President Obama will instead be receiving scores of, if not 350, postcards from rally attendees, asking him to present a primetime, nationally-televised “State of the Climate” speech that will clearly inform Americans of both the threats and the opportunities that we face from unbridled climate change.

    So, keep up the great work there in CA, and keep reaching out to tell us about it: the beach-lettering imagery on your website is awesome! And, should you hear 350 x 12 = 4200 church bell peals wafting westward on Saturday morning, please think of your climate-preserving brethren here in the East.