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On Saturday, October 24th nearly 60 activists gathered at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, MI for the 350.org International Day of Climate Action. Overall 5,200 events in 181 countries happened on the 24th, marking it as the largest day of global climate action in the planet's history.
The number 350 represents the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide (CO2) in parts per million in our atmosphere - currently we are at 389ppm and rising. Dr. James Hansen of NASA has been researching climate change for decades, and he has determined that 350ppm of CO2 is the number we need to achieve in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
As countries prepare for the United Nations Climate Change Conference happening in Copenhagen, Denmark this December activists are working to ensure that they understand the consequences of moving too far beyond 350ppm of CO2. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has said, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”
That is why active citizens organized 350GR, a local event to raise global awareness about climate change and 350. Event organizers represented Grand Valley State University, Calvin College, Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College, Kendall College and The Bloom Collective.
The event began with music from Midwest Skies, a mix of alternative rock and punk sounds by three students at Grand Valley State University. The artists played their own music as well as some throwbacks to the 90's that got the crowd moving and singing.
In between songs student leaders spoke about what they are doing on their campuses to promote sustainability. Robert Zinger, president of the Student Environmental Coalition at GVSU, mentioned that they are currently working on a campaign to ban bottled water on campus.
Other speakers included Kristie Klomp of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and Lee Sprague from the Sierra Club of Michigan. Both spoke about the need to recognize the extreme consequences of climate change if left unattended, and they also stressed the importance of getting involved and engage in the community.
After the rally participants marched over to Calder Plaza shouting chants such as "What do we want? Green Job! When do we want them? Now!" and "Ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop!" Holding signs and wearing green hard hats the group of participants were a colorful stream of hope against the gloomy grey skies.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell joined the event for the march and the 350 human aerial photo. Since first stepping into office, Mayor Heartwell has been a strong advocate for sustainability. In an interview early last week, he told the story of how Grand Rapids began using renewable energy. With 20% of the city's energy now coming from renewable sources, Mayor Heartwell has challenged us to have 100% renewable energy by 2020, and he believes this is more than attainable.
As the march approached Calder Plaza organizers led individuals to their places in the numbers 3-5-0. James Morse, the event photographer and I, climbed up on the man lift to get into position for the human aerial photo. Participants held blue, orange, and white balloons, and signs while learning Earthwork musician Daisy May's "Getdown to 350" song. The photos representing the number "350" were taken in front of Grand Rapids City Hall, Calder art and the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building.
Despite the freezing rain and wind the 350GR event was a success. The global action made headlines across the world including the front page of the New York Times, and CNN and it was even featured in the Sunday paper of the Grand Rapids Press.
Organizers at 350.org have put together a video compelation of the actions that happened on the 24th.
Disclosure: I am the main organizer of the event. Currently I am a senior at GVSU and a youth delegate to the UN climate negotiations traveling with the Will Steger Foundation. Expedition Copenhagen is a delegation of 12 Midwest youth led by arctic explorer Will Steger seeking to educate and empower individuals to take action on cliamte change.