Saturday's International Day of Climate Action gave us overwhelming evidence of hope at a time of widespread despair on global warming.
Last month, scientists predicted a 6.3 degree rise in average temperatures -- higher than previously estimated -- by the end of this century, even if the strongest pollution-reduction targets proposed by the world's leaders go into effect. (The most recent ice age, for context, was triggered by a 3 degree change in average temperatures.) The Obama administration, meanwhile, has been criticized for weakening its stance on the climate issue, and hopes are dimming for an international treaty at the December climate summit in Copenhagen. As Democrats struggle to pass a domestic cap-and-trade bill, partisan battles are increasingly shrill and contentious, casting doubt on the bill's chance of passage anytime soon. Even if it were to pass, enviros have criticized the legislation as "woefully inadequate" and "less than worthless."
Most of us are deaf to these laments. The more strident and dismal the climate battle becomes, the more the American public tunes out. We can't ignore the science, but we've got to move past the partisan bickering, past the politics of doom and gloom, and focus on what's going right. As Saturday's event made clear, there's a lot going right:
1. We are connected.
Online organizing and social media -- Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, blogs -- are ushering in a new era of coalition-building and global climate outreach breathtaking in scope. These online tools "enable us to track the growing momentum on this issue," 350.org organizer May Boeve told me. "That's vital to movement building." Daily twitters and blog posts on climate change number in the tens of millions -- spreading information, rallying lobbyists, and stoking innovation. Al Gore, for one, has nearly two million followers on Twitter -- more than Martha Stewart.
2. We have a target.
The most complex scientific problem humanity has ever faced has been distilled into a three-digit manifesto -- 350. Transcending language and education barriers, this global target was spelled out on beaches, mountain tops, monuments, and town squares, in human bodies linked to human bodies.
3. We have youth.
Kids and students were a highlight of the 350 event -- reflecting the youth climate movement that has been growing globally in recent years. In the US, the Energy Action Coalition has convened hundreds of thousands of students who are greening their campuses, lobbying state legislatures and Congress, and partnering with activists worldwide -- members of the China Youth Climate Action Network, Khmer Youth Association, Accion Climatica Colombia, the Indian Youth Climate Network, among other groups. In place of the panda, they've have chosen for their symbol the green hard hat, representing a new era of green jobs.
4. We have diversity.
Saturday's event produced the world's first grand-scale portrait of the global climate movement-and most of them looked nothing like Al Gore. The images of activists across all economic strata in Mumbai, Instanbul, Cairo, Dhakam, Gaborone and well beyond made it clear that environmentalism is no longer the domain of the white, privileged Prius-and-polar-bear set.
5. We have a movement.
As the global climate movement diversifies, D.C.-based environmental groups have been joining forces with labor, veterans and religious groups in a broad coalition dubbed Clean Energy Works. The group is mobilizing organizers in 28 states and spending handsomely on television ads to promote climate policies that will transition America to a green economy and create millions of clean jobs.
6. We have action.
In the months leading up to the 350 event, governmental leaders of the Maldives Islands held a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear to expose the global warming threat. Greenpeace activists scaled the Houses of Parliament in London carrying "Change the Politics -- Save the Climate" signs. Student activists blockaded the entrance to a coal plant in downtown Washington D.C. This is activism with a wow-factor -- reminiscent of the 60s-era outreach that helped trigger a sea change in environmental policy.
7. We have faith.
Churches in the Presbyterians of America alliance tolled their bells 350 times. The target was also spelled out in signs draped across synagogues and mosques. Faith-based climate activism has been gaining ground in recent years, in particular the "creation care" movement spearheaded by evangelicals. With a membership of 45,000 churches and 7,000 megachurches, National Association of Evangelicals, for instance, is supporting mandatory carbon caps.
8. We have profit motive.
General Electric, Google, and Duke Energy are among a multitude of big-brand businesses positioning themselves to profit from a 350 ppm target --innovating climate solutions from electric cars to smart-grid components. We need these climate profiteers. To borrow and reinterpret a line from Thomas Edison: Corporate innovators are finally discovering what the world needs -- and they're proceeding to invent.
In a 1979 presidential address Jimmy Carter quoted an activist friend who said, "We've got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying." These words resonate today as we face so much despair and political paralysis on climate change. The good news is that the sweating, walking and praying has begun.
Amanda Little is the author of Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells, Our Ride to the Renewal Future (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers).
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