Target 350: climate protests go global

October 19, 2009

What do a Jewish congregation in the Alaskan town of Fairbanks, the Browniz coffee shop in the port city of Salalah, Oman and a Shanghai primary school have in common?

All will take part in what could be the world's biggest ever protest for a safe climate future on October 24.

The protests will be part of the international day of action called by the campaign.
Close to 2500 separate actions, in 157 countries, are organised for the day. In Australia, more than 160 protests will occur.

The website says its mission "is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis — to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet".
US-based climate change writer, activist and founder Bill McKibben called 350 "the most important number on the planet".

The number 350 refers to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, industrial-scale agriculture and deforestation has pushed the concentration of atmospheric CO2 to almost 390 parts per million (ppm). Ongoing emissions mean it rises by 2ppm every year.

This is causing a dangerous warming of the planet's climate. The world's leading climate scientists have said governments must commit to lowering atmospheric CO2 to below 350ppm to prevent climate chaos.

In an April 2008 paper, a team of climate scientists led by NASA's James Hansen said: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

They concluded: "If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects."

The 350 target has been endorsed as a safe upper limit by the Alliance of Small Island States — a bloc of countries representing 20% of the United Nations. The countries are among the most at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change.

More than 200 environmental and social justice groups have also endorsed the global campaign.

Other supporters include Indian ecologist and feminist Vandana Shiva, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra Pachauri, former US vice-President Al Gore and British journalist George Monbiot.

A big focus is to mobilise international public pressure for the upcoming UN-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen in December. The problem is that most countries coming to the negotiations are starting from a basis of alarmingly outdated science, which suggests 450ppm is a safe target.

Such a target would condemn millions of people and species to a grim future. It would unavoidably lead to the melting of the Arctic ice cap, the loss of the freshwater stored in the Himalayan glaciers and a rise in extreme weather events.

"The treaty currently on the table [at Copenhagen] doesn't meet the severity of the climate crisis — it doesn't pass the 350 test", says's mission statement.

In Australia, actions will take place in all states and territories. Australia CEO Blair Palese told Green Left Weekly she found it "remarkable how creative people have been in coming up with ideas for the 350 [actions].

"The key with Copenhagen coming up is that there is almost no way for the public to have a voice", she said. "So 350 was set up to provide a voice all over the world. It is very much about letting people have their say."

In Brisbane, the protest will be marked by throwing 350 frisbees at the same time. In Caloundra, Queensland, climate activists will fly 350 kites.

More than 1000 people are expected to cycle through Melbourne before forming a large 350 human sign in a park. Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral will toll its bell 350 times.

A big event on the Sydney Opera House steps, featuring music from the Cat Empire's Felix Riebel and The Beautiful Girls, will kick off the global campaign.

Palese said local climate action groups had played a key role in organising the events. Other groups such as Getup, Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation were also supportive.

She said the purpose of the campaign was to give a point of reference about the climate science. "It's meant to [help people] judge Copenhagen: does it get us 350 or not?"
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