If you looked down at the Mill Ruin Park underneath the Stone Arch Bridge this past Sunday, you may have seen a crowd of approximately 500 people and perhaps even a giant whale, gathered around a solar powered sound system and a series of information booths. At first glance it could be hard to imagine that this congregation of citizens, elected officials and non-profit leaders were being joined in solidarity by 7,000 other demonstrations in 188 countries around the world, from the front lawn of the White House to the streets of downtown Istanbul and the countryside of Laos.
The date, October 10th, 2010; the occasion, 350.org’s Global Work Party-a day to celebrate environmentalist initiatives taken across cultures and nations; the message to political figures around the world, “stop dragging [your] feet and get to work on climate solutions.”
Formed over the past two years by renowned author Bill McKibben and a handful of students from Middlebury College, 350.org is an international grassroots movement “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.” The number 350 comes from a 2008 report from James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which posits that an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million is the upper limit to which the biosphere can sustain itself without irreparable climate damage, such as completely melting the Greenland ice sheets. Hansen’s research points out that prior the western industrial revolution this concentration had stayed constant at 275 ppm. By 2009, the concentration of carbon dioxide was close to 392 and rising two points annually.
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The Minnesota chapter, MN350, chose its location across the Mississippi from the last coal burning plant in Minneapolis, the Southeast Steam Plant, operated by the University of Minnesota. The Southeast Steam Plant is responsible for the burning of 38,000 tons of coal annually. “The University has the chance this fall to make a pledge and a plan to make Minneapolis a coal-free city,” said Siri Simons, co-chair of the Campus Beyond Coal student group. The organization has recently set its sights on the University’s Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee, a panel set to make recommendations to campus decisions makers regarding energy and fuel-use options this December. The committee was created after University President Bob Bruininks signed onto the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment report. “Other schools such as the University of Illinois have made coal-free commitments as part of Climate Action Planning processes and we are confident that the University of Minnesota as an internationally renowned research institution will use their resources to create a pledge and a plan to move this plant beyond coal within five years.”
Campus Beyond Coal was joined Sunday by representatives of 25 environmental groups including local organizations Transition Twin Cities, MN Renewable Energy Society, and the Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, as well as national outfits Greenpeace, Oxfam America and the Citizens Climate Lobby. Speakers at the event included local climate scientist John Abraham, arctic explorer-turned-educator Will Steger and state Senator Ellen Anderson.
The MN350 Work Party kicked off at 10am Sunday with a Bike Rally from the Como neighborhood through downtown and ending at the Stone Arch Bridge. The rally of nearly 200 was lead by Julia Nerbonne, University of Minnesota professor of conservation biology and program director of the Environmental Sustainability Program at the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs. Among the day’s activities was live music, a letter writing station and a clothing and book swap