01/08/2007 08:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

April 14th: A Call to Arms Against Climate Change

From Bill McKibben's piece in Grist

The most important question about global warming right now is: what do I do once I've changed the damned lightbulbs?

And one small answer is

This is the first of twelve dispatches I'll write for Grist, one a week through early April, that will chronicle the first nationwide do-it-yourself mass protest, and by far the biggest demonstration yet against global warming.

If all goes well--and by "all going well," I mean "if you help"--then on Saturday April 14 we'll kick off the approach to Earth Day with hundreds upon hundreds of simultaneous rallies all across America, designed to start pressuring Congress to take decisive action on climate change. Americans will gather in iconic places across the country. Some will be familiar at a glance (the top of the Grand Teton, underwater off Hawaii's coral reefs, on the levees above the Ninth Ward, along a blue line on Canal St in Manhattan that will mark the city's possible new beachfront). Others will be less famous: the steps of your church, the picnic grove in your city park, the biggest barn in your county. But everywhere people will be saying, loud and clear, that it's finally time for serious action from Washington on the mightiest problem the world has ever faced.

All you need to take part is a crowd--small in small places, bigger in big places--and a digital camera. By nightfall we'll have a cascade of images for everyone to look at, including local and national media. We'll have proof that Americans care deeply enough to act. It should be lovely in every sense of the word.

We're not an organization. There are seven of us--six recent college graduates earning the sum of $100 a week for their labors, and me, earning only the chance to exorcise some of the ghosts that have been haunting me since I wrote The End of Nature in 1989. For almost two decades, the few of us working on climate change felt like we were trapped in a bad dream, unable to get anyone else to see the monster looming up behind them. In the last couple of years, that's begun to change. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gore, public opinion has turned. Polling shows people know there's a problem, that they want action. And we have the scientists to tell us exactly what's wrong, the engineers and the economists to offer useful solutions. There have been dozens of good books in the last two years, and fine documentaries. Every Rotary Club in America has seen An Inconvenient Truth.

We have, in other words, all the parts of a movement except the movement itself.

Earlier this year, a few of us led a march across Vermont for global warming action. By the end of five days and fifty miles, we had a thousand people marching. That was sweet--it was enough to insure that all our candidates for Congress and the Senate pledged to support 80% cuts in carbon emissions by 2050. But it was also sad. Because that thousand people was the largest demonstration yet held in this country about global warming.

We could change that with a march on Washington. But a march on Washington is a little passé. And everyone spews an immense amount of carbon getting there. And anyway, for the first time in history, we have the tools to do this a different way: to assemble in the places that mean the most to us, the very places that will be wrecked as the planet warms, and make our point there. With digital video cameras and You-tube; with cellphone pictures and Flickr. If we do our job right, the old media will find it irresistible too: the newspapers, the tv.

Anyone can play. Some of the day's actions are being organized by Sierra Club chapters and NRDC offices; many more will come from local groups who know that the cove or wetland or inner city or community garden that they've worked to protect and nourish is threatened by drought and sea level rise. Many more still will be organized by people who aren't official activists at all, just so concerned about climate change that they're ready to do something. We're using that same goal we used in Vermont: 80% cuts by 2050. But the numbers are less important than the intent: That it's time to finally start doing something, and something on the same scale as the problem we face.

We have most of the tools you need to make a rally work: banners, pointers on working with reporters. And you have the most important tool: your list of email addresses, of the people who you can assemble for an hour on a Saturday to hoist a banner and take a picture. And each of them has a list of email addresses, and...

The key first steps are to copy this essay to as many people as you think might possibly care, and then to go to our sign up to host a rally. It's not a perfect website yet, but it will get better quickly. And already it shows what really matters: a kind of desperate creativity from across the country. Desperate but joyful. And ready to get started.

-Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. His new book, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, will be available in March