Bill McKibben’s wrap up of the more than 4300 (!) demonstrations for 350 ppm around the planet

350 Front Pages

The great environmental writer and founder of, Bill McKibben, is the guest blogger.

We’re sitting here in our temporary offices in lower Manhattan hunched over laptops drowning in images””15,000 photos and thousands of minutes of video have arrived from what turned out to be 5,200 rallies, protests, and demonstrations in 181 countries around the world.

It was, according to any number of journalistic accounts, “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” But here’s the thing that impresses us. There wasn’t a rock star or a movie star or a charismatic politician in sight.  It was ordinary citizens and scientists coming together around a scientific data point.

The coverage, except for a somewhat sour piece by Andy Revkin in the NYT, was incredible. And it was also massive. We owned the top of Google News for 18 hours, and were all over the front pages of newspapers across the globe. Here’s a link that will give you the tiniest taste.

But I hope folks will go to the website and just spend some time going down the blog or looking at the slideshows. It will serve as a good reminder of just how many people are engaged and thinking about climate.

Clearly 350 doesn’t solve the problem. Clearly we’re not going to get the agreement our group wants out of Copenhagen. Hopefully we’ve managed to push the process at least a little ways in the direction of the science. And hopefully we’re finally beginning to build something that looks like a global movement to face the biggest global problem there’s ever been.

Enormous thanks to all who helped over the weekend, and will in the future.

— Bill McKibben

JR:  The Revkin piece is here.  At least it has a great final quote by NASA’s Gavin A. Schmidt:  “If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none.”  The Washington Post ran a good AP story Saturday with the website link (reprinted below) and a photo today:

Activists held events around the world Saturday to mark the number they say the world needs to reach to prevent disastrous climate change: 350.The number represents 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere that some scientists say is the safe upper limit. The atmosphere currently reaches about 390 parts per million, according to research by NASA climate scientist James Hanse cited by

Hundreds of events highlighted the number in different ways.

In what founder Bill McKibben called a global game of Scrabble, groups in Australia, Ecuador, India, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Denmark each spelled out one of the numbers in 350. Hundreds gathered in New York City’s Times Square and watched slideshows of the other events on giant screens.

McKibben, an environmentalist and author of “The End of Nature,” said the day was unique because it emphasized the science behind a politically complicated topic.

“It was ordinary people rallying around a scientific data point,” McKibben said. “Nothing like that has ever happened before.”

In Venezuela, volunteers formed a human chain marking the number zero on the beach at Catia La Mar north of Caracas to mark the spot where they said the ocean would reach if global warming is not stopped.

McKibben said volunteers also sent in photos of separate groups forming the numbers 350 around the Dead Sea, in Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territory.

Many of the events referred to the Copenhagen conference scheduled in December that will seek to reach a new global climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions. It has been billed as a last chance to avoid the impact of catastrophic global that could be felt for generations.

McKibben said there are lessons to be learned from the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. did not join.

“We saw what happened,” he said. “Everybody walked away once it was done, and there was no real progress. We need to pick up the pace.”

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22 Responses to Bill McKibben’s wrap up of the more than 4300 (!) demonstrations for 350 ppm around the planet

  1. Don’t worry Bill, those of us who realize the important work you’re doing thank you for it. You’re building a global movement to change what’s ‘politically feasible’, and that’s key to solving what is a global problem needing above and beyond effort.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Thank You, Bill and Everyone Else, From San Francisco

    I attended a main event in San Francisco near the Ferry Building. It was great, meaningful, and well-done. I’m somewhere near the tail end of the “5” in the “350” shots taken there.

    Bravo! The organizations involved all did great jobs. In particular, Greenpeace and the 350 folks did a great job. But they ALL did great jobs, and I thank them for it.

    That said, we need to do much more, of course. I see this as only a “beginning” in terms of stepping up the public understanding and activity.

    And, well, I’m going to re-read Andy Revkin’s piece, and I was just about to do that, with my coffee. When I first perused it, on-line, I couldn’t believe it. Although we all want to be “positive” about coverage and not too critical, there is a MAJOR problem with The New York Times, and people (more and more) need to point it out, unfortunately.

    I’ll reserve comment until I re-read the piece. But, I’m glad to see that it was mentioned here.

    I’m disappointed in The Times and am going to stop buying it out of habit. I may buy and issue here or there if I hear of a great piece, but I have just ridded myself of the (unhealthy) feeling that I’m not up-to-speed with things unless I read it. That is a false, misleading, and merely addictive sort of feeling.

    Too, I should mention that I haven’t see any mention of the Big Letter that eighteen scientific organizations sent to members of the Senate last week, regarding climate change, in The New York Times. How can that be? What is The Times’ explanation? What is Andy’s explanation?

    It is very difficult for me to imagine how The Times can keep wondering about the problematic state of public understanding, when it doesn’t put such an amazing letter and pivotal event on the front page, prominently, with a detailed article.

    That’s it for now. Congrats to the 350 folks and the folks from the other involved organizations. To The New York Times I’ll simply say, “examine thyself.”

    Be Well,


  3. Nancy says:

    I worked with residents of 40 suburban Boston towns to organize a ‘Energy Revolution Rally’ at the historic Minuteman National Park in Concord, Mass. The media was notified of this event, but not one reporter or photographer showed up. There were more than 350 people in attendance, but the Boston TV stations didn’t come. To see photographs of the event, you can go to the GWEN website

    Mrs. Peggy McKibben, Bill’s mother, gave the welcoming address and Bill has local ties (he grew up in Lexington), but the Boston Globe and Lexington papers ignored us.

  4. NathanS says:

    Looks like we might save the planet after all :)

  5. We had a heap of fun at a 350 event in Brisbane, Australia, throwing 350 frisbees to the beat of drums. Lots of young kids, parents, older folk, and good energy.

  6. Richard Brenne says:

    Despite Andrew Revkin’s attempt at a new Guiness hair-splitting record and despite the New York Times’ using a headline evidently vetted by the American Association of Soulless Accountants (AASA), the joy in Kathleen Jordan’s face and the compositional brilliance of the photograph of her and others is what remains from that piece.

    Similarly, as Bill so eloquently says, this is a movement of the people, by the people and for all people. We are the Kathleen Jordans of the world, and this is the beginning of our taking over control of the planet that we all inhabit.

    Despite the brainwashing of our celebrity-worshipping culture, in the end what the most famous among us do or don’t do is really inconsequential relative to what we each do.

    For a couple of years I’d planned an event in relatively out of the way Bend, Oregon to see how one of my panel discussions would go in a town without a large population or major research university.

    Since we’d chosen October 24 as the day of the event months before I knew of that as the 350 day, we added activism to our four-hour discussion and the combination was incredible. The panel and discussion included world-class experts, athletes and spiritual thinkers but it was the quality of the conversation among everyone else that most sticks in my mind. There were people in their 70s and 80s and a 10-year-old who interjected brief and at first hearing kind of heckling comments as the speakers spoke.

    As I listened more closely I realized that his every brief heckle, often just a word or two, was exactly appropriate. He showed a complete understanding of the various complexities we addressed about climate change, peak oil and other resource depletion, overpopulation and overconsumption.

    His name is Matthew. It is not our leaders or other celebrities who give me hope. It is Matthew, Kathleen Jordan and the rest of us who do.

  7. Richard Brenne says:

    Sorry I forgot the photographer’s name of that great picture of 350 activists including Kathleen Jordan. Her name is Tina Fineberg. Tina, that is really an exquisite photograph. Bill, put it at the top of the list of images you use, if you can. There is something in Kathleen’s face that cannot be faked.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Nancy and GWEN (Comment 3)


    I LOVE the photos . . . very moving.

    I love the “Love Your Mother” sign and the “Seven Generations” sign, and the whole thing looks like it was quite a success and very meaningful.

    Indeed, those two pictures (or at least one of them) could and should really have been on the front page of The New York Times and/or The Boston Globe.

    I cannot believe that the major media did not show up. I’m amazed. It is their lost opportunity, and at this point I’m becoming convinced that we need a whole new set of media. Indeed, the “media” I’m beginning to admire more and more is the “in the streets” grass-roots sort.

    Judging from the photos and from the agenda, you folks did a fantastic job. Very moving. And that’s putting it mildly. I do hope that someone picks up those pictures.

    Be Well,

    Jeff Huggins

  9. Gail says:

    Chiming in with Jeff Huggins, the GWEN event looks pretty impressive and those photos should be used to build on the momentum that is reflected in the creativity of the participants. Keep it up, GWENer’s!

  10. Stephan says:

    Awesome. So many events all around the world to promote awareness regarding climate change. 350 PPM, there we come!

    For more info on the environment, have a look at this Green News.

  11. James Newberry says:

    We may be witnessing the beginning of the great technological and eco-nomical revolution in our lifetimes. The era when mined Material Resources are perversely monetized as Energy Resources is beginning to change.

    Investment in sustainable sustenance is not a cost. Clean energy strategy is beneficial investment for present and future generations. The fraudulent global ponzi scheme of measuring energy in gallons and tons (and waste and militarism) really measures no efficacy at all. The planet’s sequestered hydrocarbons were made through photosynthesis of efficiency less than one percent, and up until now we have left that reality out of our feeble equations.

    The future shall belong to the wise and economical in the best sense of the words. 350 has gone 360. Now onward with the contest of ideas that shall determine the future of all following generations for a thousand years.

  12. Roger says:

    Thanks, Nancy, Jeff and Gail, for the kind words about GWEN’s Regional Energy Revolution Rally in Concord, Massachusetts, as part of Global Climate Action Day on Saturday. Whatever success we achievied was, of course, a direct result of the time and talent that dozens of volunteers, such as Nancy and others, put into the event.

    However, the real climate heroes of Saturday are Bill McKibben and his 350 team, and Jim Hansen, the scientist who inspired Bill to publicize 350 ppm as the likely safe maximum level of CO2 to maintain a livable climate. These two deserve a lot of credit for getting the climate movement moving, and now stepping up the movement globally.

    As everyone in the climate movement knows, we are at 390 ppm of CO2 now, meaning Earth’s “Check Engine” light is–or should be–ON. But most people outside the movement are ignoring the subtle (to them) signs of climate trouble. It’s time to wake them up!

    We need to show our leaders how to lead. And some of that leadership is being demonstrated by students from a dozen Massachusetts colleges who have started a new “Leadership Campaign.” The campaign’s purpose is to encourage Massachusetts legislators to make Masachusetts the first state in the United States to supply 100% of it’s energy needs using renewables by the year 2020.

    Tonight, these students are beginning a program of sleeping outside every night until the state acts, or until the Copenhagen talks begin in December. On Sunday nights, they will sleep on Boston Common, before lobbying in the Massachsetts State House on Monday morning.
    New heroes in the making…

  13. paulm says:

    We stopped some traffic on Cambie Bridge downtown, made a lot of noise and got in to the media here in Vancouver (There was not a police official in sight for the whole event!).

  14. ken levenson says:

    Great work Bill and – it is inspiring!

    I like your war footing quote in Revkin’s article – first time i think i’ve read something like that in the paper. And while Revkin’s tone is maddening – I do agree that the 350 goal is random….shouldn’t we really be pushing to go to pre-industrial levels?

    Anyway, if the bottom line of Revkin’s article is zero emissions is the right emissions target – I can live with that. ZERO. Dramatic and simple – ZERO has a nice ring to it!

  15. ken levenson says:

    I’d like to add that ZERO was the appropriate conclusion of the SuperFreakonomics fiasco.

    When Caldeira retorts that not only is geoengineering not a replacement for CO2 emissions cuts but that the only safe CO2 emissions level at this point is ZERO. I call that a teachable moment!

    zero, zero, zero….could be the agw chant. :)

  16. Neal Heidler says:

    The “website” link in Bill’s post is not working. I’m sure you can easily fix it, Joe.

    [JR: Good catch.]

  17. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #14: Ken, Hansen et al’s “Target CO2” paper identified 350 ppm as a *maximum* level to shoot for. Long-term, it will need to go lower unless we’re willing to accept (among other things) a partial ice sheet melt and oceans permanently devastated by acidifcation. As a practical matter, though, it will be a while before there’s a meaningful distinction between the steps needed to return to 350 ppm and those needed to get down to the certifiably safe level of the late Pleistocene interglacial maximum (300 ppm).

  18. ken levenson says:

    I’ve read Hansen’s paper and “get it” (Bill M. actualy wrote the first article I saw on Hansen’s “discovery” of 350 back in December of 2007 in Washington Post) – but as you note, and I agree, we should really be going for 300ppm.

    I believe the “Climate Code Red” folks call for 320ppm to be safe.

    Agree on meaninglessness of distinction too…the important thing is to start radically reducing emissions and to figure out a way to go negative ASAP.

  19. Laurie Dougherty says:

    Hello Nancy,
    Sounds like GWEN had a great event in Concord. I’m sorry the media missed it. The Boston Globe did cover the Boston Underwater event on the Boston Waterfront and also described the area students’ Leadership Campaign. I went to a community energy fair in the Mission Hill neighborhood, then biked intown with several other cyclists to the Boston Underwater event. Several groups of cyclists biked to either the Concord or Boston event.

    Beth Daly, an environmental reporter for the Globe did mention the Concord event, the Boston event and several others in an article that was written early Saturday or late Friday before the events happened. (Basically the same article was also online at the Boston.con Green Blog on Friday.

    More photos from Massachusetts events (Concord, Boston and beyond – and there were many other events not shown) at the website of MCAN (Masachusetts Climate Action Network)

  20. RunawayRose says:

    We had two events in the Quad Cities Saturday, a prayer service in Davenport, Iowa and a teach-in at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. The local papers and radio stations did good write-ups the Thursday before; I haven’t checked the Sunday coverage yet.

  21. Peter Sergienko says:

    Interestingly, I attended the main event in downtown Portland, Oregon and the local television news broadcasts that I saw got the story just right. The reporting included interviews with event organizers and participating experts and explained the significance of 350 in straightforward terms. The reporting was classic who, what, where, when and why. Television news is obviously a vastly different medium than print, especially the Times, but the reporters here did not feel the need to “frame” the story by piting proponents against opponents and skeptics. Indeed, there were no opponents or skeptics visibly present at the Portland event. Thus, putting forth their viewpoints in order to provide some sort of balance to the story would have been misleading. Sometimes the best journalism is simply reporting what happened accurately.

  22. Jim Robinson says:

    Ref #17. Mr Bloom obviously is a person of intelligence, IE: referencing the “late Pleistocene” levels of CO2. CO2 levels have always fluatuated thru out the billions of years the earth has existed. My question to anyone and everyone …. if there were no humans in existence over the ions of time (geologic time scale) up until now, how is it we think, as human beings,that we will be able to control the CO2 levels on the earth in our short meager existence here ?

    The above link is pretty good reading, it explains in simple terms just how old the earth is. When comparing the age of the earth to the length of time we have existed here on this earth is like the blip of the signal on a radar screen. So why is it that a 100 years here, or a 1000 years there, going to make a difference over 1 billion years ? If someone can produce a good answer I will quit calling global warming the biggest scam of the century, nothing more than a way for the bleeding heart liberals to make money at the expense of the ignorant public.

    I always said all you have to do is follow the money. I know Al Gore has …. he has made a very nice living off the global warming threat. This kind of thinking is comparable to the idea the Corp of Engineers can alter the course of the Mississippi River. This just isn’t going to happen.

    So in the grand scheme of things is it really feasible to think we as a people …. who can’t even get along in this big world, will be able to control the CO2 levels on the earth. Very wishful thinking ….