14 Oct 2008
Weaving the Magic Number, 350, into Transition
I had the great pleasure over the weekend of attending the 2008 Schumacher Lectures in Bristol. I will write more about it tomorrow, but one of the highlights for me was a talk by Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (one of the most distressing books I ever read) and Deep Economy (one of the most exhilarating). Bill’s current project is 350.org, which aims to press politicians to acknowledge that 350ppm was the climate change tipping point, and the level we should commit in policy to moving back to over time. Bill’s rousing closing speech argued that we ought not focus on building the new post-oil, low carbon world, rather we must focus all our energy on tackling climate change first. His analogy was if your house is on fire you tackle the fire, you don’t start designing the new house to replace it. It is not an analogy I agree with, but clearly the 350 figure is key.
Here is the film from 350.org that communicates the campaign’s basic message…
And here is a talk by Bill, setting out the reason why 350 is “the most important number in the world”.
At the Schumacher event, Bill argued that 350 is the one key fact we need to remember with regards to climate change. He argued that as part of bringing politicians to their senses and getting them to actually take the necessary steps, 350 has to become the mantra, and that rather than embarking on practical steps to start rebuilding our local economies, we need to do symbolic actions which communicate the message and the number 350 in as many creative ways as possible. A look at their website shows some of the ways people are doing this around the world.
Clearly the need to communicate 350 is key, and I agree entirely about its importance as a target, James Hansen has argued this entirely convincingly elsewhere. Where I disagree though, is on the question of the need for purely symbolic actions. I think that with the peak oil question, and the economic implosion issue woven in too, the need to think forward, to vision the future, is key.
If we want people to see the move to 350 as something that they really want to aspire, we need to help them to see that place as a potentially healthier and happier place than where they are now. We need to give them, through planning for that future, and through practical projects that give a tangible taste of it, the feeling that 350 is both about intrinsic survival and also about moving to something preferable, healthier, more life-affirming, a world which is, ultimately, happier.
My sense is that the case for 350 is so important, and that the way Bill argues it, it is clear that 350 needs to be the number everyone thinks about in relation to climate change. This set me thinking about how we might weave it into the Transition movement. When I had to sum up at the end of the day, I commented that I thought that merely symbolic actions were not enough, and that there was no need for either/or, that there is no reason why Transition initiatives can’t do practical actions that also embody the 350 element.
Some ideas that came to me included planting 350 walnut trees (or whatever), donating 350 local currency notes to something, creating 350 new allotments, installing 350 solar panels, getting 350 people to commit to driving less, using local currency or starting an edible window box, producing an Energy Descent Plan that costs £350 a copy (that’s a joke that one…), distributing 350 low energy bulbs, I don’t know, I’d love to hear your ideas as to how that figure might be woven in in creative and imaginative ways.
Of course, if you do these things and don’t tell anyone it is somewhat akin to the tree that falls in the middle of the forest with no-one around to hear. Doing 350-themed events and promoting them at 350.org is a very powerful way of also communicating to people who read that site that the Transition movement is engaging creatively with this and that there is no reason why actions have to be entirely symbolic. I rather rashly said that I would plant 350 onion sets next spring. As I sit here looking out at my raised beds, I sense that the result of that might be somewhat monocultural, but I think that engaging with this is very important. I welcome your Transition/350-themed ideas…