The Dernogalizer

October 1, 2010

350.org Breaks Last Year’s Record

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 12:11 pm
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350.org’s 10/10/10 rally has broken it’s record last year, with over 5249 global work parties now scheduled.  Below is an e-mail from founder Bill McKibben with the good news.  Don’t forget to attend one of these events, or make your own.

Dear friends,

Wow. That was fast.

Apologies for sending multiple emails in one day, but I didn’t want to keep the good news to myself.

About 15 minutes minutes ago, Biljana from Serbia registered an event for her local community in Belgrade.  On 10/10/10, at 10:10 AM, they will take 2nd and 4th graders on an “eco field trip” to volunteer at an sustainable farm, participate in green workshops, and do a trash clean-up.  Of course, they’ll be finishing up their event by forming a big “350” for a group photo that they will send into 350.org after their event.

Biljana’s event in Serbia was the 5249th event registered for 10/10/10, and it officially broke last year’s record! To give you a sense of just how diverse this day promises to be, I’ve pasted a list of a few event highlights assembled by our grassroots media team just below this email. (more…)

September 10, 2010

Bring solar power back to the White House

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 10:18 am
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I recently blogged about Bill Mckibben’s efforts with 350.org on the 10/10/10 global work party, and putting solar power back on the White House.  Now Bill is taking his advocacy to the opinion section of the Washington Post!  According to the Atlantic, the White House has agreed to talk about Bill’s proposal.  I’m re-posting Bill’s op-ed below, enjoy!

A few of us have spent the past week carefully transporting a relic of American history down the East Coast, trying to return it to the White House, where it belongs.

It’s not a painting spirited from the Lincoln Bedroom or an antique sideboard stolen from the Roosevelt Room by some long-ago servant. No, this relic comes from the somewhat more prosaic Carter roof. It’s a solar panel, one of a large array installed on top of the White House in June 1979.

When he dedicated the panels, President Jimmy Carter made a prophecy that, like many oracles, came true in unexpected fashion — in fact, nothing better illustrates both why the world is heating and why the American economy is falling behind its competitors.

“In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy,” he said. “A generation from now this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

What happened?

— By 2000, the panels were long gone from the White House, taken down during the Reagan administration. But they were indeed still producing hot water, on the cafeteria roof of Unity College in central Maine.

— Some have indeed become museum pieces — one is at the Carter Library and another was donated this year by Unity to Huang Ming, the entrepreneur whose Himin Solar has become the world’s preeminent supplier of solar hot water. It is in the gallery at his enormous Sun-Moon Mansion complex, a few hours south of Beijing.

— The technology has indeed become part of a great and exciting adventure. Just not for the American people. Instead, by Huang’s estimate, 250 million Chinese shower with hot water from rooftop panels. There are entire cities where essentially every building heats its water with the sun. Which explains why China leads the world in installed renewable capacity.

Meanwhile, in America, the solar industry essentially vanished after Reagan stopped supporting it with federal dollars. Less than 1 percent of Americans heat their water with the sun, a number not expected to rise very quickly now that the Senate has punted on even the modest climate legislation passed by the House.

To counter this situation, we’re carrying the panel back to the White House and asking President Obama to put it back on the roof, alongside a full array of new photovoltaic and hot-water panels. Obama has drawn much of the blame for the failure of the climate legislation, which he didn’t push aggressively; this is a chance to make at least symbolic amends. Thus far, however, we have not gotten a firm response from the administration, even though other world leaders have pledged to join a Global Work Party on Oct. 10 (10-10-10). Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldive Islands, for instance, will be on the roof of his official residence bolting down panels donated by the American company Sungevity.

Clearly, a solar panel on the White House roof won’t solve climate change — and we’d rather have strong presidential leadership on energy transformation. But given the political scene, this may be as good as we’ll get for the moment.

The Bush administration, in fact, created an opening — it brought solar energy back to the White House, with some photovoltaic panels on a maintenance shed and a small water heating system for the “presidential spa and cabana.” But the Bush officials purposely did it without fanfare, and fanfare is exactly what we need. Those panels belong on the roof, where every visitor can see them.

A memo in the Carter Library, written by domestic policy adviser Stuart Eizenstat in May 1978, lays out the case with prescient power: “It would provide a symbol of commitment that is understandable to all Americans, and would enable you to recapture the initiative in the solar energy area. . . . The White House experience will show, to the great number of interested but skeptical Americans, that solar energy is clean, practical, and worth the long-term investment.” He’s still right — when Michelle Obama planted a garden on the White House lawn, it helped boost seed sales 30 percent in the next year.

We wasted three decades when, across America, we could have been using the sun’s power instead of coal to heat our water. We wasted our technological lead in the most important industry of the future and handed it to countries like China. As scientists tell us with increasing fervor, we’re laying waste to the planet’s climate. Now is the moment to go back to the future.

Bill McKibben, founder of the global warming campaign 350.org, is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont and the author of “Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”

September 3, 2010

350.org’s Bill McKibben on David Letterman: Put Solar on the White House on 10/10/10

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:51 pm
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Famous climate activist and founder of 350.org Bill Mckibben was on David Letterman recently, and I absolutely love what he is pushing now with the 10/10/10 global work party.  Just as awesome is what he is suggesting President Obama do on this day.  Put some solar panels on the White House.  Can you imagine the symbolic gesture of Obama standing on the White House and putting the final touches on some solar panels?  That would be incredible symbolism considering the history of solar panels on the White House (Carter put them on it, Reagan took them down…).  Below is the video from McKibben on Letterman.  Come on Obama, Put Solar On It!

February 25, 2010

Bill McKibben: The O.J. Tactic

Filed under: Climate Change — Matt Dernoga @ 11:10 pm
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350.org leader Bill McKibben has a great op-ed out in the L.A. Times where he likens the arguments of climate skeptics to the argument the lawyers for O.J. Simpson used in his trial.  I’m re-posting the whole thing below.

The O.J. tactic

Climate change skeptics sound like Simpson’s lawyers: If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.

Opinion

February 24, 2010|By Bill McKibben

In recent years, every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril of climate change. All 15 of the warmest years on record have come in the last two decades. And Earth’s major natural systems are all showing undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater and so on.

Yet because of a recent onslaught of attacks on the science of climate change, fewer Americans now believe humans are warming the planet than did just a few years ago.

The doubters of climate science have launched an enormously clever — and effective — campaign, and it’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy is perhaps the O.J. Simpson trial.

The “dream team” of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: The evidence against their client was formidable. Nicole Brown Simpson’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt — and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples and which racial slurs LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman had used.

In his closing arguments, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be. They made convincing mountains from the molehills they had to work with.

Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming, but it’s also unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get some things wrong.

Indeed, the panel managed to include half a dozen errors — most egregiously a spurious date for the year by which Himalayan glaciers will disappear. It won’t happen by 2035, as the report indicated — a fact that has now been spread so widely across the Internet that it’s more or less obliterated the indisputable fact that virtually every glacier on the planet is busily melting.

Similarly, much has been made of the so-called Climategate scandal involving thousands of hacked e-mails and documents from a British research center. A few of the communications suggested the scientists were dismissive of research that came to conclusions they disagreed with. One British scientist, Phil Jones, has been placed on leave while his university decides if he should be punished for, among other things, not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

Jones could be considered the Mark Fuhrman of climate science; focus on him and maybe people will ignore the inconvenient mountain of evidence about climate change that the world’s scientific researchers have compiled.

The skeptics also have taken advantage of lucky breaks that have crossed their path, such as the recent record set of snowstorms that hit Washington. It doesn’t matter that such a record is just the kind of thing scientists have been predicting, given the extra water vapor global warming is adding to the atmosphere. The doubters simply question how it can be suddenly super-snowy if the world is actually warming.

For a gifted political operative like, say, Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website, the massive snowfalls this winter provided grist for a hundred posts poking fun at the very idea that anyone could still possibly believe in, you know, physics. Morano truly is talented — he immediately posted a link to a live webcam so readers could watch snow coming down. Meanwhile, his former boss, Oklahoma’s Republican Sen. James Inhofe, had his grandchildren build an igloo on the Capitol grounds, with a sign that read: “Al Gore’s New Home.”

These are the things that stick in people’s heads. If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.

In the long run, the climate-deniers will be a footnote to history. But by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time. If we’re going to make real change while it matters, it’s important to remember that their skepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change.

That inertia is what gives the climate cynics ground to operate. That’s what we need to overcome, and at bottom that’s a battle about data, but also about courage and hope. In the last year, we’ve rallied millions of people in almost every country to demand action on climate change, and to start building the world beyond fossil fuel. The truth will out.

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including the forthcoming “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont and the founder of 350.org, a global grass-roots climate campaign. A longer version of this article can be read at tomdispatch.com

February 15, 2010

“Bill McKibben: Washington’s snowstorms, brought to you by global warming”

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:42 am
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Hats off to Bill McKibben for his op-ed in the Washington Post where he debunks the silly notion that a boatload of snow for a week bears any weight on the scientific consensus that we’re warming the planet by burning fossil fuels.  McKibben does a great job of driving home the connection between warmer temperatures and more *gasp* snow(precipitation!).  I’m re-posting the whole thing.

Washington’s snowstorms, brought to you by global warming

By Bill McKibben

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The cross-country ski race I’ve been training for, set for today high in the Green Mountains: cancelled, lack of snow.

Meanwhile, across the continent, backhoes and helicopters are moving snow down British Columbia’s Cypress Mountain in an attempt to cover the Olympic ski courses, and technicians are burying cooling pipes beneath the moguls to keep them from melting. Some climate-conscious jokers put out a video pushing the sport of “bobwheeling” for future snow-challenged Olympiads.

And apparently there was some snowfall in the greater Washington area last week.

When you’re trying to launch snowboarding tricks on dry ground and simultaneously shutting down the U.S. government because the snowbanks are casting shadows on the Washington Monument, something odd is going on. This isn’t a good old-fashioned winter for the District of Columbia, not unless you’re remembering the last ice age. And it doesn’t disprove global warming, despite Sen. Jim De Mint’s cheerful tweet: “It’s going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.’ “

In most places, winter is clearly growing shorter and less intense. We can tell, because Arctic sea ice is melting, because the glaciers on Greenland are shrinking and because a thousand other signals send the same message. Here in the mountains of the Northeast, for instance, lakes freeze later than they used to, and sometimes not at all: Lake Champlain remained open in winter only three times during the 19th century, but it did so 18 times between 1970 and 2007.

But rising temperature is only one effect of climate change. Probably more crucially, warmer air holds more water vapor than cold air does. The increased evaporation from land and sea leads to more drought but also to more precipitation, since what goes up eventually comes down. The numbers aren’t trivial — global warming has added 4 percent more moisture to the atmosphere since 1970. That means that the number of “extreme events” such as downpours and floods has grown steadily; the most intense storms have increased by 20 percent across the United States in the past century.

So here’s the thing: Despite global warming, it still gets cold enough to snow in the middle of winter. It even gets cold enough to snow in Texas and Georgia, as it did late last week. And the chances of what are technically called “big honking dumps” have increased. As Jeff Masters, the widely read weather blogger, pointed out last week, a record snowstorm requires a record amount of moisture in the air. “It is quite possible that the dice have been loaded in favor of more intense Nor’easters for the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, thanks to the higher levels of moisture present in the air due to warmer global temperatures,” he wrote.

The climatalogical climate is only part of the equation. The political climate counts, too — and there’s no question that it’s harder to make legislative progress when Sen. James Inhofe’s grandchildren are building an igloo next to the Capitol with a big sign that says “Al Gore’s New Home.” The timing here is particularly tough, for the snowstorms come against the backdrop of renewed attacks on the pillars of climate science — charges that hacked e-mails show some researchers to be venal or that key scientists have financial ties to energy industries.

Looked at dispassionately, those political attacks essentially buttress the consensus around global warming. If that much money and attention can be aimed at the data and all anyone can find is a few mistakes and a collection of nasty e-mails, it’s a pretty good sign that the science is sound (though not as good a sign as the melting Arctic). The British newspaper the Guardian just concluded a huge series on the “Climategate” e-mails with the words: “The world is still warming. Humanity is still to blame. And we still, urgently, need to do something about it.”

Looked at dispassionately, the round of snowmageddons crisscrossing the mid-Atlantic carries the same message. But it’s hard to be dispassionate when you’re wondering, six hours of shoveling later, if there’s a good chiropractor in the neighborhood and what kind of dogsled you might need to reach her.

It’s almost like a test, centered on ground zero for climate-change legislation. Can you sit in a snowstorm and imagine a warming world? If you’re a senator, can you come back to work and pass a bill that blunts the pace of climate change? If the answer is no, then we’re really in a world of trouble.

Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the co-founder of 350.org. He is the author of “The End of Nature” and the forthcoming “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”

November 23, 2009

Bill McKibben puts the heat on Obama

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:24 am
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Bill McKibben, the leader of 350.org which organized the largest day of action on climate change in world history this past October, wrote a great op-ed calling on President Obama to step up his game on tacking climate change.  I’m re-posting it below.

Obama needs to feel the heat

Here’s a story of two presidents, Barack Obama of the United States and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives.

Both are young and charismatic. Both were elected last fall to replace discredited incumbents (Nasheed’s predecessor ruled the island nation for three decades and kept him in a political prison for years). Both have troublesome legislatures (the opposition party controls the chamber in the Maldives).

But on the biggest question the planet faces — if we’ll take action in time to slow down global warming — they couldn’t be more different. One, Nasheed, is leading the fight. The other, as we saw last weekend when he announced that there would be no new treaty anytime soon, is only half in the battle. They both may go to the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Copenhagen next month, but Nasheed will be there to say: Seize the moment. And if Obama makes it, he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.

To understand the difference between the two men is to understand much of the politics of global warming, as well as the chances for an agreement on climate change — this year or next — significant enough to matter.

In Nasheed’s case, geography almost requires him to be outspoken. His nation is what you picture when you picture paradise: 1,200 tiny islands, each ringed by a reef with a lagoon, white sand beaches and coconut palms. A small fraction have been turned into tourist resorts, but most are either uninhabited or home to fishing communities that go back thousands of years.

But the highest point on most of those islands is only a few feet above sea level. They can’t cope with the rising oceans that every expert says global warming will bring, and they can’t cope with the dying corals that come when seawater gets hotter and more acidic. And so, more than any other leader on Earth, Nasheed has made global warming his rallying cry.

He’s versed in the latest science. He knows, for instance, that trying to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million is no longer a viable goal. That given what science now shows, the much tougher target of 350 parts per million represents his country’s only chance for survival. As Rajendra Pachauri, the only scientist ever to accept the Nobel Prize for his work on climate, said this month: At 450 ppm, the Maldives and many other islands, as well as larger low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, “will be completely devastated.”

So Nasheed has gone to work. Some of his actions have been symbolic: As part of a global day of climate action that I helped organize, he trained his entire cabinet to scuba dive so they could hold an underwater meeting on an endangered coral reef; they signed a resolution to be presented at the Copenhagen summit demanding that nations take steps to return the atmosphere’s carbon level to 350 parts per million. And some of his actions have been entirely practical: To show its willingness to lead, the Maldives (a poor nation) has committed to being carbon neutral by 2020. There are lots of wind towers on the way, and I’ve seen plans for farming seaweed to make biofuels.

Contrast that with Obama. He too has acted; in fact, he’s done more than his three predecessors combined. He’s taken admirable steps on automobile fuel economy, put stimulus money into green job plans and surrounded himself with an excellent cast of scientific advisers. But doing more than George W. Bush on global warming is like doing more than George Wallace on racial healing. It gives you political cover, but the melting arctic ice is unimpressed.

So it’s not good news that, internationally, Obama’s spokesmen have stuck to the 450 ppm/2 degree target, calling it consensus science when it no longer is. And it’s not good news domestically that Obama turned climate legislation over to Congress to produce, slotting it behind health care on his list of priorities. Since he’d just spent some years in the Senate, the president should have been able to predict what would happen: The already none-too-strong Waxman-Markey (House) and Kerry-Boxer (Senate) bills have been laden with ever more gifts to ever more special interests and ever more loopholes to undermine their targets. And now the Senate legislation has apparently been handed to Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for some more tweaking, an exercise that, from a scientific point of view, seems unlikely to end well.

Obama’s excuse is that the Senate won’t sign tough climate legislation, so there’s no use pushing for it. (And he’s right — the Senate is tough. At 350.org, an organization I co-founded that is dedicated to solving the climate crisis, we’re working to organize candlelight vigils at senators’ offices around the country.) But that’s conceding the game without taking a shot — he hasn’t done any of the things Nasheed has tried to rally his nation and other nations.

Imagine an American president willing to take his Cabinet underwater off the Florida Keys. Or, more realistically, imagine an American president who would take the press corps to Glacier National Park so they could hike the dwindling ice fields, then fly them above the millions of acres of dead lodgepole pines covering much of the West, and then take them to stand on the levees in New Orleans. These are the kinds of stunts Obama knew how to pull off when he was running for president; they seem to be the kind of things he forgot about once he got the office.

And they’re exactly what he needs to do if we’re going to deal with climate in the short time science gives us. A mediocre health-care bill is one thing; you can probably come back in a generation and make it stronger. People may suffer in the meantime, but the problem won’t become logarithmically worse. The climate, on the other hand, is full of traps and tipping points — let it get warm enough to melt the permafrost that locks away vast supplies of methane, and no future president will be able to control the heating. If there were ever a challenge that called for focus, this is it.

Both Nasheed and Obama have dominated summit meetings in the past few days. Nasheed gathered leaders of 11 of the most vulnerable nations on Earth at an island near his country’s capital. They produced a manifesto calling for a 350 ppm world — which would mean many countries, including our own, trying to follow the Maldives swiftly toward carbon neutrality. If global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius, “we would lose the coral reefs. At 2 degrees we would melt Greenland. At 2 degrees my country would not survive,” Nasheed said. “As a president I cannot accept this. As a person I cannot accept this. I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do anything about it. Copenhagen is our date with destiny. Let us go there with a better plan.”

He got his answer from Obama a few days later at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore. As one of the U.S. spokesmen put it, “There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days.”

This is not just spin, it’s pathetic spin. Copenhagen has been on the calendar for years — it’s not a surprise that someone sprung on the president, who shortly after last year’s election declared: “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high.”

The stakes didn’t get any lower in the past 12 months. In fact, on Monday NASA issued new data showing that the world has just come through the warmest June-October period in recorded history. Meanwhile, officials at a U.N. summit on hunger were describing new research that showed temperature increases above 2 degrees could cut crop yields by a fifth in poor countries. Meanwhile, a new study showed jellyfish swarming across the world’s oceans as temperatures rise, driving out the species people need for food. Meanwhile — day after day — the list gets longer.

Obama always gets high marks for his cool, his calm, his lack of drama. His patience. Maybe he should learn a thing or two from Nasheed.

Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the co-founder of 350.org. He is the author of “The End of Nature” and the forthcoming “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” He will be online to chat with readers Monday at 11 a.m. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

July 15, 2009

Excellent piece by Bill McKibben

There’s a very well written op-ed in the Guardian by Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org.  Posted below.

Environment: race against time

At last month’s G8 summit, western leaders including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown pledged to forge a deal that would hold the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million.

Two years ago that would have been an unthinkably progressive stance. Then, the American president wanted to do essentially nothing at all about global warming. And because two years ago it seemed like those numbers might be good enough to tackle the problem.

But two years ago, almost to the week, scientists noticed that the Arctic was losing ice at an almost unbelievable pace, outstripping the climate models by decades. Clearly we’d passed a threshold, and global warming had gone from future threat to present crisis. It wasn’t just Arctic ice; at about the same time methane levels in the atmosphere began to spike, apparently as a result of thawing permafrost. Surveys of high altitude glaciers showed they were uniformly melting, and much faster than expected. Oceanographers reported – incredulously – that we’d managed to make the oceans 30% more acidic.

Those observations changed everything – and they produced what is almost certainly the most important number in the world. A Nasa team headed by James Hansen reported that the maximum amount of carbon the atmosphere can safely hold is 350ppm, at least if we want a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Since we’re already at 390ppm, the message was clear: we don’t need to buy an insurance policy to reduce the threat of future warming. We need a fire extinguisher, and we need it now.

Scientists have heard that message – in March they gathered by the thousands at an emergency conference to declare that the five-year-old findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were dangerously out of date.

But politicians haven’t caught up. As we head toward the crucial Copenhagen talks slated for December, Obama and the rest of the world’s political class are still using the dated science and its now stale conclusions. It’s easy to understand why: reaching a deal that would meet even that 2 degree target is incredibly hard, given the recalcitrance of everyone from China’s Central Committee to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Aiming even higher could  undermine the entire process – asked about tougher targets Obama recently said that they risked making “the best the enemy of the good.”

That’s a smart answer, for almost every other issue on earth. If he can’t get national health care through the Congress, then some halfway plan is a good fallback – you can come back in a decade and make it stronger. But global warming is different, the first truly timed test we’ve ever faced. If we don’t address it very dramatically and very soon, then we won’t ever fix it – each season that more ice melts and more carbon accumulates increases the chance that we’ll never get it under control, because those feedback loops are taking the outcome out of our hands. So far we’ve raised the temperature less than one degree Celsius, and that’s melted the Arctic. You really want to go for two?

It’s not fair to make Obama, Brown or any other politician shoulder this burden alone. To meet the scientific challenge would require re-gearing the world’s whole economy far faster than any leader currently plans. The only analogy is the mobilisation that won World War II – and right now that’s not politically possible. Right now half-measures like the legislation wending its way through the American Congress are the best we can do.

Obama could provide more leadership (I’d send him on a daylong high profile trip from Barrow, Alaska to the US Antarctic base) but if we want to extend the limits of political possibility, we need to build a real movement. That’s starting to happen. In September a coalition of environmental and aid groups will stage a campaign they’re calling TckTckTck to highlight the urgency of the crisis.

A crew of us at 350.org have been working with youth groups, churches, and others for the last two years, and our efforts will culminate with a huge day of global action on October 24 with events in most of the world’s nations. We’re all trying hard to help the scientists reboot this debate, changing the political climate enough so that leaders everywhere will be able to move more boldly.

It’s a long shot, but not so long as hoping that we can muddle through. The planet is done negotiating, and we know its bottom line: 350 parts per million. It’s hard to get 180 nations to agree on a useful pact. It’s hard to get 60 Senators to sign on to a powerful bill. But it’s even harder to amend the laws of nature.

• Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and a coordinator of350.org

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