house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

350: "The Devastating Number"

The title is not mine. It's from an article on the significance of the number 350 to the 6.793 billion humans inhabiting planet Earth on 24 October 2009. I won't make it easy by posting a link that you will, in all likelihood, ignore. If you're not the ignoring type, then a) you already know about 350 or b) you will google it and find all the science explained by people far more clever than I. I know: at this point some have already clicked and sailed away from this blog. For the others, the rest of the story. Here goes.

On October 24th 2009, about 15 people (out of the above mentioned 6.793 billion) met on the old bridge between Valenca do Minho (Portugal) and Tui (Spain) to participate in the “biggest climate action ever”, known in short as “350”.

Let me say this now: I believe “350' is a flawed slogan – too obscure and unfathomable. Many of us don't know what it is. Most of us can't even begin to understand it. I try and fail to find a good comparison. Putting “Smoking Kills” onto cigarette packs comes to mind, and 350 is way worse than that.

At least, “Smoking Kills” means something. Two easy words. “Smoking” equals “pleasurable and pointless – and hazardous in the long term - activity involving rolled up tobacco and a source of fire, sometimes involving friends and family similarly engaged”. “Kills” ... Hollywood amply fills in the gap here. And yet, should any smoker actually read or think about the message, will his next logical step be: “oh – I MUST NEVER touch the stuff”? No. His reaction will somehow be along the lines of “not ME it won't” or, at best, “LAST one, I swear” before lighting up.

But “350”? It refers to the concentration of CO2 in the planet's atmosphere. It's not a random number. Below 350 we are OK. Above 350, “you couldn't have a planet 'similar to the one on which civilisation developed and to which life on earth is adapted” (Bill McKibben/James Hansen).

On 24 October 2009, we are at 390, yet everything around us seems the same. 350, or 390 or 400... just numbers, maths, all cryptic and impenetrable. They have no hope of reaching the warm familiarity of words, the reassurance of stories, the certainty of physical phenomena. They don't translate to dark spots on the face of the sun, a funny smell or a spectacular disease that befell the neighbour's husband.

What is required is a leap of faith. We – the 15 on the bridge in Galicia and the thousands who woke up this morning and joined over 5,000 actions in 181 countries – are asking the remaining billions to remember 350:

350 – the harbour, full of lights and laughter, seen as you sail out and straight into a storm
350 – the cliff where you stand and look at howling black waves below and, what-the-hell, you jump
350 – that serene moment you hit black ice, gliding like a god before you start to spin
350 – the cigarette that does it, the one that plants the first cancerous cell on the charred inside of your lung

So we stand on the bridge on the 24th of October and these thoughts are far from our minds. We talk instead about cats and children, tomato seeds and stonemasonry tools, as you do. It rains and rains, we are drenched and our banner is drenched and our leaflets are drenched. One old man crosses the bridge on foot and asks in passing “what Saint instructed us to leave our homes on a day like this”. He gets a sodden leaflet.

It says "350"!


At 24 November 2009 at 07:30 , Anonymous Cath said...

And here in Oz the Climate movement that gathered for the Canberrra Climate Summit says "300"! Nevertheless we need year-on-year reductions now. And can work out the exact concentration of greenhouse-gases / carbon dioxide equivalent when we start to even get close to neutral and then sucking carbon from the air.

Talking about the power of words and climate change. As I drove back from Canberra today, a car full of Wollongong Climatically concerned new friends, we saw that the Rural Bushfire Service had started up-dating their signs. There is a new scale of fire-risk severity. Red "Extreme" wasn't sufficient. A new category of red/black stripped "catestrophic" has been added.

"A Code Red (Catastrophic) day will carry the warning that: people may die or be injured; thousands of homes or businesses may be destroyed; and well prepared, well constructed homes may not be safe during a fire,"'catastrophic'-fire-risk

I hope you are enjoying just the right amount of rain,

love Cath

At 24 November 2009 at 10:33 , Anonymous Cath again said...

on the up-side, the firefighters union are taking to the streets on climate change


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