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International Day of Climate Action (Stephen Siperstein)

October 24, 2009

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the panel discussion “Climate Policy: What if Politics Fail Us?”, hosted by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.  The speakers, Dale Jamieson, Director of Environmental Studies at New York University, James J. McCarthy, Harvard University climate scientist and co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mary Wood, professor of Law and director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the UO, addressed the fear many of us who deeply care about our environmental crisis are beginning to feel: that the December UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will come and go without any lasting changes in the way that nations are dealing with climate change.  While each of the speakers discussed the problem from his or her specific disciplinary backgrounds–environmental ethics, climate science, and law–there was a general consensus between the three that the Copenhagen talks MUST result in success. I was most interested in several points that Dr. Wood made.  First, we as citizens of the world must hold our governments accountable for the health, survival and care of human populations (the public trust).   And second, the main barrier to effecting meaningful climate action is not, in the end, a technological, political, or economic one, but a conceptual one.  Wood stressed that we need to shift the way that most people conceive of responsibility, not only the responsibility of government, but responsibility on the levels of the community, the family, and the individual.

That is why I am writing this brief post.  Tomorrow is October 24, the International Day of Climate Action (actually it’s already started on the East Coast).  The organization 350.org has called on people around the world to organize actions in their communities based around, and bringing attention to, the number 350.  Why 350?  Checking out this video will probably explain more than I can, but 350 PPM (parts per million) is what leading climate scientists, like Dr. McCarthy, have identified as the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (We are currently between 387 and 390).  There is even events going on in Eugene OR; between 3 and 5 pm at the Hult Center for Performing Arts, there will be a large gathering of “Artists for Climate Action” with addresses by Mayor Kitty Piercy as well as Professor Mary Wood and performance and readings by local artists (I urge you all to go check it out, to find other actions going on in your communities, or to just find others–friends, family, politicians–and talk about climate change and climate action).

350.org is one of the largest to date global citizen coalitions.  Talk about blending the global and the local.  As Dale Jamieson described during the panel discussion, we will need a constellation of three forces to bring about social change and large-scale climate action:

1) Strong and committed political leadership on the local, national, and global levels.

2) A highly motivated minority.

3) A permissive majority.

As cultural critics we have an important role to play in bringing about all three, not only by being part of that highly motivated minority, but by studying the rhetoric and discourse that is being used or should I say that needs to be used to talk about climate change.  Additionally, as the work in our course has demonstrated so far, we must be the ones who think about and theorize the ways that an organization (or should I call it a global human network) like 350.org can bridge the divide between thinking locally and thinking globally and bring about what Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben has called, “a new planetary humanity.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 6:59 pm

    Thank you, Stephen, for an expertly-researched post on the climate talks––the concern among scientists and environmentalists that they are not heading in the right direction––and the work of 350.org. I was disappointed to have missed the Climate talk on campus last week due to conference travel, and appreciate your analysis of it!

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