Cambridge, MA –– Although 350.org has become a global leader in the fight against climate change, its beginnings are modest. “350 started like this, in a circle, in Vermont, in 2006,” said Phil Aroneonu, Co-Founder and U.S. Campaign Director of 350.org, recalling his days at Middlebury College. Aroneonu was speaking to more than a hundred activists gathered in First Church Cambridge on June 28. They had assembled to launch the Massachusetts outpost of the worldwide environmental organization.
“In moving forward,” Aroneonu said, “we need to leave our egos at the door. We need to strive to understand each other. We need to be strategists and be responsive. We need fun, exciting, nimble actions. But we need to stay positive and focused because it’s easy to be cynical, given the science.”
Two thousand miles away, as he spoke, smoke filtered across the mountainous horizon west of Colorado Springs. Looking toward Pike’s Peak, one could make out the peripheries of an inferno that would torch up thousands of acres of timber, destroy 346 homes, force 30,000 evacuations, and kill an elderly couple.
High-temperature records are being broken steadily in 2012, according to Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). In recent days NCAR headquarters in Boulder, CO experienced the consequences of the heat firsthand: its employees joined the waves of evacuees fleeing the fire’s reach. The record-breaking heat, with all of its attendant dangers, is “a clear indication of climate change,” Trenberth said.
“Occupy has been really brilliant in opening up public space to talk about the fundamental issue, namely money, and the unequal distribution thereof,” Aroneonu reflected. He explained how the fossil-fuel industry subverts the U.S. democratic process. The policies reflect the interest not of the ecosystem, but of the “deadly energy” industry, as Occupy Boston Chaplain Marla Marcum cited in discussion following Aroneonu’s talk.
In the corporate media, Aroneonu noted, moneyed “climate deniers” have “controlled the debate at every level.” This extends from the propaganda campaigns routinely orchestrated by corporate-funded think tanks like the Heartland Institute, to coverage of statements by industry leaders. For instance, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson assured the Council on Foreign Relations that climate change is “an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions.”
Many disagree, and abundant evidence supports them. For instance, the June 7 issue of Nature suggests that if humanity does not radically and quickly adopt ecologically sound economic practices –– like sustainable energy consumption versus subsidizing fossil fuels –– then it will likely pass an irredeemable “tipping point.” The June update of MIT’s 2012 Energy and Climate Outlook projects that without “substantial mandates or tighter climate policies,” temperatures could increase as much as 7 degrees C by 2100.
To combat this, 350 plans to attack on two fronts: “inside,” via working for sensible legislation; and “outside,” via grassroots pro-democracy activism.
In the former arena, 350 is pushing the ‘End Polluter Welfare’ Bill, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and Representative Keith Ellison (MN). This would cancel the planned $113 billion in taxpayer money projected to go to fossil-fuel companies over the next ten years.
The latter piece of the strategy is where Occupy comes in. Direct actions to support the ‘End Polluter Welfare’ Bill have already been planned in Holyoke, MA, Portsmouth NH, and Rutland, VT for August 4.
After Aroneonu’s comments, organizers –– some of whom, like Brandeis student Dorian Williams, helped set up Occupy Boston nine months prior –– split off into breakout groups to plan issue-centered campaigns. These include Political Accountability, Holistic Management, No Coal by 2020, No New Fracked Natural Gas, and opposition to Tar Sands New England.
Like the Occupy Movement, 350 officially commits to nonviolence. As part of its toolkit on how to organize local workshops, 350.org’s website directs readers to information about Satyagraha, or the “force which is born of truth and love, or non-violence,” as Mahatma Gandhi translated it. The approach famously inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, who traveled to India in 1959.
Last August police arrested over 1,000 activists who staged a sit-in in front of the White House. They had practiced nonviolent resistance to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. Over 10,000 descended on the building again in November, encircling it and succeeding in pressuring the Obama Administration to at least postpone and review the project.
“Raise your hand if you participated in Washington D.C., last August,” instructed Vanessa Rule, Director of Community Engagement at the Better Future Project. Several attendees did so. The rest thanked them in a spirited round of applause.
The Revolutionary Peace
To conclude the evening, nearly the entire group walked outside across the street to the Cambridge Common. “Mic check!” a voice yelled.
“In 1775, in this exact space, George Washington first gathered the Continental Army,” explained activist Craig Altemose. The multitude echoed his words, holding hands and forming a circle in the grass.
“There were individual militias from Concord, and Lexington, and Cambridge. And they knew that they could not defeat the British Empire if they fought alone, and if they stood alone. Today we have the same need for common purpose. And the beautiful thing about our cause is that we are not coming together to fight against our brothers and sisters; we are coming together to save our brothers and sisters.
“We come together to not fight for death, but to fight for life; to fight for energy sources that do not require people to die; to fight for healthier communities.”
“350 Massachusetts!” the crowd cheered with energy, before beginning to dissipate into the warm night.
For more information and to get involved, visit 350.org & 350MA.org