Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

350 -- Falling In Love Again
distributed 8/14/09 - ©2009

I don't know of anyone who got married so that they could negotiate the family budget, vacuum the carpets, and do other people's laundry.

Those responsibilities are part of a committed relationship, but there has to be love and passion to provide a foundation for the routine stuff. To keep the relationship strong, partners need to find time to get back to that core. A romantic weekend get-away or regular "date nights" are common prescriptions when a loving relationship hits the doldrums.

Similarly, I don't know of many people who are environmental activists because they love to negotiate the details of agricultural credits in federal climate legislation, draw maps of allowable energy transmission corridors, or lobby their Senators about the certification criteria of a cap-and-trade system.

Wonky policy details are part a building an environmentally responsible society, but most of the people I know who are committed to the eco-justice cause find their passion in a more compelling vision. To keep our movement strong -- and to attract new folk into the cause -- we need to reclaim that core vision. A lively public rally or an afternoon of meditative prayer can reminds us why we care, and can renew our commitment.

On October 24, 2009, we have the opportunity to join in one of those profoundly mobilizing occasions. On that Saturday, people all around the world will take part in an "international day of climate action." Thousands of local events, held in over 90 countries, will get us back to the core of our concern and commitment.

Each of those local events -- coordinated by "" -- will assert a very basic truth. For the health of the planet, the rapidly rising levels of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere need to be stabilized at 350 parts per million. Because CO2 levels are now at 390 ppm, and rising at about 2 ppm per year, our global society needs to make the dramatic changes that will actually reduce the levels of greenhouse gasses.

The rallying cry of "350" encompasses what keeps many of us going in the climate change cause. It expresses the love we feel for our neighbors in the Earth community, for all of the people and creatures who depend on the fragile life systems of the planet. It speaks of the grief and fear we feel as our energy-addicted industrial society continues to spew the gasses that overheat the Earth. It renews our hope that there is an achievable level for carbon dioxide that can sustain both human civilization and the health of planetary systems.

"350" is to the climate change movement what "I love you" is to a strong family relationship. It is the essential affirmation that keeps us going through the hard stuff. We fight hard for less-than perfect climate change legislation just like we struggle with family budgets -- because those frustrating things are essential in living out our passion.

The call to 350 does not come with any explicit policy details. It is not an endorsement of cap-and-trade instead of a carbon tax, a stand for or against nuclear power, or an answer to the conflicting justice claims of poor and rich nations. 350 just says that those sort of questions have to be addressed -- right now. 350 sets the standard that must be used in answering the hard questions. What strategies and policies will get our beloved planet back to a safe level of greenhouse gasses? How quickly can those changes be made?

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Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Desmond Tutu, Van Jones and other leaders of the 350 movement are using an unusual organizing strategy. It is diffuse, quirky, and localized. It is rooted in neighborhoods, churches, and college campuses. It asks people to be responsible for talking to their friends and colleagues, and sharing their conviction that 350 is "the most important number on Earth."

Instead of gathering hundreds of thousands of anonymous people for huge rallies in national capitols, the 350 movement invites people to gather by dozens and hundreds in their own communities. It asks them to make the connections between the global climate crisis and the details of their own lives. Local actions will plant trees that capture carbon and provide shade, gather residents in a coastal neighborhood that will be submerged as sea levels rise, stage protests at an inefficient coal-fired power plant, worship in confession and hope, do street theater at a shopping mall, or hold a teach-in about the realities of global warming. It is all close to home.

Continuing an effective strategy from the Step It Up campaigns in 2007, local organizers will take a picture of their October 24 event -- of their community members gathered around the number 350 -- and those thousands of pictures will be brought together on the website of We can see actual people at local events, all affirming the vision of 350: people from the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the threatened island nation of Tuvalu, drought-stricken Kenya, and the suburbs of US cities. School children in India, mountain climbers on the melting glaciers of the Himalayas and Andes, church bell ringers in Massachusetts, and activists decrying mountain-top removal in Appalachia all find common meaning in the 350 vision.

Taking part in these October 24 events will be energizing for us who participate, and there will be broader impacts. Our communities will start to hear about that 350 number, and begin to understand the urgency of climate stabilization. Politicians will see ordinary folk becoming community organizers, and know that a movement is building. Businesses will know that people are watching their products and their pollution. And the delegates to the next UN climate change conference -- in Copenhagen next December -- will have to deal with 350 as a moral vision proclaimed in towns and cities all around the planet.

One measure of the success of this global day of action is how many different events will be held around the world. Twenty people at a block party count just as much as 200 people protesting at a congressional office. A prayer vigil, an art show, a bike ride and a solar energy tour all get listed as "actions".

On behalf of Eco-Justice Ministries, I ask you -- I strongly urge you -- to join with the 350 movement on October 24. Check the website and find an event near you. Better yet, plan an event that will engage your friends and neighbors. Do something at your church or school. Add to the count of actions, and grow the movement where you are.

I don't offer that invitation lightly. Eco-Justice Ministries is deeply committed to the 350 cause. On our home turf of Colorado, we have formed a coalition called 350Denver, and we're working to stimulate and publicize as many events as possible in our metropolitan area. We have challenged ourselves to get more events scheduled in Denver than in any other city in the world.

350Denver is staging a big rally at the State Capitol at 3:50 PM on October 24. We're recruiting an interfaith group to plan a worship service to start the day. We're reaching out to high schools and colleges, neighborhood associations and environmental groups, and encouraging them to hold 350 events. We're lining up dozens of churches that will ring their bells 350 times. Within the next few weeks, Eco-Justice Ministries will be conducting a series of leadership training events to engage hundreds of church people in the project. We're publicizing the local events that other groups have scheduled, and we'll help to coordinate media coverage for the diverse range of activities that day.

We are convinced that 350 is "the most important number on Earth", and we believe that great good can come from the bubbling up of a grassroots movement grounded in that vision. Participation in this movement can help us "fall in love again" with our passion for a vibrant and healthy Earth community. We can be energized again for the sometimes tedious work on the details that will make the vision a reality. We can influence decision-makers close to home, and at the UN climate negotiations in December.

Join the movement. Plan an event, or at least take part in one. If you are near Denver, help us activate this city. If you're not in Denver, make a difference where you are. Call me (303-715-3873) or write ( if you have questions.

350 is a number that defines a stable climate. 350 is a global movement. 350 is a vision of health and justice for the Earth community. Fall in love again with that vision. Renew yourself and renew the Earth as you take part in this cause.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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