How many people does it take to spell "350" with their bodies?
About 30, of course - plus one dog.
That's how many Juneau residents showed Saturday at the University of Alaska Southeast Noyes Pavilion to take part in a global visual petition against climate change.
The event, called 350 Day, is held in conjunction with International Day of Climate Action and is one of more than 4,000 rallies in 168 nations coordinated by 350.org, the first large-scale grassroots global campaign against climate change. It is organized around the scientific data point 350 parts per million carbon dioxide - the safe upper limit for the atmosphere, according to NASA climatologist James Hansen and his team.
Bill Leighty, one of five directors of the Leighty Foundation, was among the professors, students and community members gathered Saturday in the rain. He spent the past nine years co-authoring research papers on the problem of transmission and annual-scale firming storage for stranded renewable energy resources.
"If we don't take extraordinary action to stop using carbon-emitting energy sources, life for our children and grandchildren is going to be much different and probably much less comfortable," he said. "And that's not just grandchildren of humans, but it's the frogs and the bacteria and all the other creatures on Earth. So it's not just a human problem. It's not fair for our species to be so unforgiving of all the other species who have the right to be here, too."
Local organizer David Moriarty agrees that although the goal is curbing global climate change, 350 Day also is important for the international community.
"Events like this bring us all together in an equal way by saying, 'We're all on this planet together, and at the end of the day we're all just people,'" he said.
Meant to urge world leaders to take effective action on global warming, photographs from 350 Day rallies around the world will be uploaded to 350.org and forwarded to world leaders at December's climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"I hope these photos strike an emotional, as well as critical, impact on world leaders as they meet in Copenhagen," Moriarty said. "I want them to know how awesome it is to have people from all over the world standing up to show that they all agree on this point. It's a unique opportunity for unification."
But for a "world" event, Juneau caught wind in a roundabout way. Word came through University of Alaska Southeast director of Public Relations and Marketing Katie Bausler, whose son was organizing a bike ride in Squamish, British Columbia.
"(Kanaan) e-mailed me that he was concerned there were events planned in Sitka and Haines, but not Juneau," Bausler said of her son.
Even the community of Gustavus gathered Saturday to sew together 350 reusable bags made of T-shirts. Volunteers plan to distribute the bags within the community with the hopes that the use of plastic bags will decrease.
Luckily, Juneau's rally was well attended.
"It's hard for an individual to feel like they matter on the global scale, but we do," Moriarty said. "350 Day is a great opportunity to show just how much a person can affect the world. ... In a weird way, I hope people who participate in this get a sense of power. Apathy is so easy in the modern world. But, if we can prove that regular people do have a voice, maybe people will start to wake up a little bit. Maybe they'll start to get involved more often."
So far, the Juneau 350 group doesn't have an official name. Moriarty registered the group as Juneau Climate Action on 350.org.
"It seems pretty unlikely that future meetings will occur, but maybe it will become sort of a private holiday, something participants can celebrate in remembrance," Moriarty said. "Although, it isn't so far fetched to think that the 350 organization could branch out into other international/ecological issues. Regardless, I'm confidant Southeast activists will stand up for something when the need arises."
Founded by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, 350.org is supported by leading scientists, governments of 89 countries and a variety of environmental, health, development and religious NGOs. For more information on the global campaign, visit www.350.org or contact Cosa Bullock in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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