350: The Call to Climate Action

By Rick Fullerton | Bio

In church this weekend, I made a public announcement about the International Day of Climate Action on October 24, a global initiative to develop grassroots support for substantial agreement when world leaders meet in Copenhagen this December. At stake is nothing less than the future of life on planet earth. As of this morning, there were more than 3,500 events planned in a total of 161 countries. For more information or to join a group or announce your event, check out the official Day of Climate Action website.

The issue, of course, has to do with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the consequences for warming of the earth. The science is clear: 350 parts per million (ppm) is now recognized as the level at which the earth’s ecosystems can sustain life over the long term. Concentrations above that level produce reinforcing feedback loops so that the warming becomes unstoppable. Evidence of this is already observable as the loss of the polar ice cap and receding glaciers means more of the sun’s rays are absorbed by the earth and oceans, thus increasing temperatures. And in case you are counting, the current concentration of CO2 is 387.

None of this will be new to inquiring readers: global warming has been with us, at least in the background conversation, for many years. The challenge now is that the canaries among us—the Sierra Club, the green movement, the environmental scientists, and leading authors—are often drowned out by other voices. The result is that we have made significant progress in raising awareness of the small personal changes that are required. For example, improvements in recycling and energy conservation do make a difference. Yet in real terms, it is much like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The scale and urgency of the challenge also demands more significant change.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, says we must do more than change our light bulbs. We must also change our leaders. In saying this, she is not referring only to our elected officials (although that is certainly an important choice we all can influence). But we must also look to other leaders in many domains of our life. For example, in the world of business, we can choose to support those corporations that demonstrate social and environmental responsibility—an important dimension of which needs to be accountability to the local communities where they operate. Similarly, we are now seeing a significant growth in eating local, a trend that will hopefully reverse the trend of agri-business and declining family farms. Another possibility that holds promise is the rise in sustainable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

While it is important to reflect on our choice about whom we follow, it is also critical to remember that we also are leaders in our own right. We are contributors to the global warming conversation, whether we acknowledge it or not.

What we say or do not say does matter, perhaps more than we ever know. And what we listen for is equally powerful, since it is in our listening that we can draw others to contribute their creativity and commitment to confronting this challenge.

After church today, I was pleased to talk with quite a few people—from seniors to pre-schoolers—including some individuals I had never met before. It was striking how many shared my concern for global warming and very obvious that naming the issue and declaring my commitment did make a difference. Indeed, it may be the only way things change.

© 2009 Rick Fullerton. All rights reserved.