Local 350.org events promote awareness

Katie Matteson

Three-hundred-and-fifty is more than a number: it’s a movement.

Environmentalists, both nationally and internationally, have banded together to rally and bring awareness to the importance of 350. Michigan included.

“We’re past the point where we’re going to solve this one light bulb at a time, so the most important thing is to take political action,” said Bill McKibben creator of 350.org.

Since the 1960s, people have begun to realize that the climate is changing, perhaps in a bad way. In 1972, the United Nations met for the first time to discuss climate change. Since then, three more meetings have been held with little progress. Then came Copenhagen.

Why are the number 350 and climate change linked? In 1988, NASA scientists said 350 parts per millionth (ppm) of carbon dioxide was the maximum amount that can be allowed in the air at any time. Although some carbon dioxide is released into the air naturally, the burning of fossil fuels and coal raises these emissions to an unhealthy point.

In order increase awareness of climate change, Bill McKibben created the 350.org movement in 2007. The mission of the organization is to inspire change and create a new sense of urgency for the planet.

McKibben created a website and asked people from around the world to step up and start a movement in their own home towns on Oct. 24. All over the world, people gathered to march, rally, hold candle ceremonies, bike rides, and speeches in the name of 350.

Michigan was no exception.

Three of the biggest 350 events held in Michigan took place in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Saginaw.

Forty to 50 people, mainly college students, attended, said the three coordinators.

Terry Miller, chairman of a grassroots organization Lone Tree Council and coordinator of Saginaw’s event, said the goal was 200 people no matter how cold weather or how many college football games got in the way.

Robyn Gordon, member of Grand Valley State University’s Student Environmental Coalition, said Grand Rapids got a surprise when Mayor George Heartwell who was only supposed to hold a video interview instead cancelled his plans and attended the 350 event.

Activities at these events included sign making, forming the number 350 from the people present, music and speeches.

In Lansing, Sarah Mullkoff rode three and a half miles to the Capital building, where more speeches were held. She is the coordinator of the bike rally and representative of the Will Steger Foundation, an environmental group with a focus in global warming.

Miller said that despite the weather, the message was clear.

“Hundreds of people were educated as to the meaning of 350 and were willing to act…instead of just hold a concerned opinion,” he said.

Both Mullkoff and Miller agree that Michigan must do more.

“I think the governor, Jennifer Granholm, understands the implications for Michigan if global climate disruption continues unabated,” Miller said. “I don’t think the legislature and general public does.”

He said the public is too impatient to understand the ‘economic strength’ of green jobs, in the areas of solar, wind and geothermal energy. He said that so far only environmental groups and some college communities seem to understand their importance.

Mullkoff said Michigan is doing its part to some degree. Eight new coal plants were proposed, however, environmental activists along with the Will Steger Foundation, were able to shut those down. She said she believes there are only two left now.

“Eventually all of us will be hard-pressed by rising seas, spreading drought, and temperatures too hot for growing food,” McKibben said.