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May 25, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]



In December of this year, countries will be meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark for a United Nations Climate Change Conference to negotiate the shape of a new treaty to cut carbon emissions. The agreement that comes out of the Copenhagen meeting will be the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012.

Many are calling December’s conference the most important international climate change negotiation ever, because in many ways, this is the last possible moment when we as citizens of the globe can take action to point the Earth toward a future with a stable climate.

As far as climate change is concerned, 350 is the red line for life on the planet and therefore the most important number on the planet. Recent scientific data tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to at least 350 parts per million (ppm), we will cause huge, irreversible and dangerous damage to the life-supporting capacity of Earth. This is quite a challenge when you consider that the current global concentration of carbon dioxide is 387ppm and rising at about 2ppm each year.

The organisation was created by Bill McKibben in response to this challenge, in order to communicate the importance of 350ppm carbon dioxide to decision makers, by mobilising mass numbers of people all over the world.

McKibben states that if the Copenhagen “meeting were held now, it would produce a treaty that would be woefully inadequate. In fact, it would lock us into a future where we’d never get back to 350 parts per million—where the rise of the sea would accelerate, where rainfall patterns would start to shift and deserts to grow.” A future where all living things, the majority of which have had no role in creating this problem, would find themselves on a damaged and degraded planet, from where there is nowhere to go to for a second chance at looking after our environment.

In order to create an adequate or even proactive treaty when the nations of the world come together in December, we need to have created a movement of people that has been vocal enough to ensure that:
a) our politicians come to a global agreement and
b) that that agreement is based upon getting us back under the red line, 350ppm.

The signs that such a movement exists are far more positive than they were even a year ago. The public response to climate change appears to be evolving from one of viewing it as a theory that may or may not be true, to one where there is growing energy to address the biggest challenge facing humanity today.

And this despite the fact that the media still gets tempted into portraying the climate change ‘debate’ as fifty–fifty between skeptics and ‘believers’. Luckily it is gradually moving away from this, spurred on in part by mainstream figures such as John McCrystal and economist Gareth Morgan publishing the recent book Poles Apart, in which they conclude that the ‘believers’ (aka institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which consists of hundreds of the world’s best climate scientists) have the winning argument when it comes to climate change. And who would dare ignore the opinion of an economist…?

So your task, as the much-lauded leaders of the future, is to get involved and push this movement forward. And not too much is demanded of you.

On 24 October this year, as politicians all over the world are deciding how they will negotiate at Copenhagen, will convene a massive day of climate action that will see events take place in every corner of the globe. The aim is to call for a fair global climate treaty that responds to the latest science and gets us back to 350ppm. As New Zealand will be the first country to see the sun rise on 24 October, we have a major responsibility to ‘get the ball rolling’ with a bang!

Currently, there are ten active groups in regions around Aotearoa. People are planning actions that will help us get back to 350 in a practical sense, as well as making a political statement. If we keep this enthusiasm up and give it everything we’ve got, on 24 October we’ll definitely be sending a huge message that the people of New Zealand are not only facing up to the realities of climate change, but are dealing with the issue, and asking our politicians to do likewise.

The scope for action is boundless, be it getting 350 boats out in the harbour to planting 350 trees. To get inspired, have a look at the ideas on You can also sign up to be part of events already on the drawing board, from helping to plan and organise, or simply turning up on the day. You can find the contact details for each group in New Zealand on the New Zealand site,


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  1. Frank says:

    “350 is the red line for life on the planet”

    This is bullshit. Even at 385 ppm, we still haven’t reached the tipping point for the end of civilisation. Clear the writer does not understand the science.

    How are you going to remove 35ppm from the atmosphere Meadowcroft?

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