Wednesday, September 30, 2009

350 at the Dunes

Ken Scott's stop action film of the 350 on the dunes.

We had to go to Traverse City anyway, so I told Anna that we would spend the extra fossil fuels to swing by the dunes and join a group of people who were going to make a giant 350 on the dunes to draw attention to climate change. She said "Great!" and asked if her friend Madison could come along.

When we got there, people were sort of milling around and saying hi to each other. It was interesting to try and figure out who was there for climate change and who was there to just visit the dunes. Jim Lively stood on a picnic table, hollered a welcome, explained the event, and then asked us to divide into three groups, one for each digit. I was drawn to the small groups of people picnicking and watching; I made a quick pass down the picnic tables inviting the onlookers to "help us make the number 350 on the dunes as part of an international effort to focus government attention on the challenge of climate change." I knew I probably wouldn't get many takers, but I wanted everyone there to know why we were doing what we were doing.

I'm the person in the teal shirt and dark jeans running to catch up to the last of the "0" group. Anna and Madison were wearing matching neon green T shirts and pink shorts, at the top of the 5. In the stop-action movie it seems like we were rushing, but at the time we had plenty of time for crosstalk, even as we kept our eyes on our director. The lady next to me fretted about people who who coming in late to join. They weren't wearing the bright blues and greens mentioned in the email invitation to the event. "That's OK," we reassured her, "we need all the help we can get." It reminded me of the bickering about "I'm greener than you!" that often pops up in environmentalist circles and discourages neophytes from taking small steps because they can't see themselves going whole hog.

In the movie we are only laying down for a second. In real life we had time to look at the clouds blowing by. A guy to my left started thinking aloud:

"350. That's the percentage of the carbon of what, again?"

I spoke to the sky, "We need to achieve a target of 350 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere in order to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. Scientists agree that 350 is our target."

"And where are we now?"

Across the "0" someone yelled, "We are over 380. Getting close to 390."

An older voice said, "We need to get our governments to get serious about this. We can all do things on our own, but governments need to become involved. A younger voice suggested "Go to"

We stood up again, on cue, and then jumped up and down and did some waves. I was reminded that I was never meant to be a cheerleader. The elderly lady next to me confessed that she couldn't jump. I said, "I think I'm jumping but I'm afraid that my pants are staying where they were."

We all trooped down again on cue, and then went off to our own pursuits. I fed the girls a picnic lunch and they set off to play on the dunes, the better to justify the extra gas that we had spent on such a frivolous stunt. Usually we come to the dunes when family visits. I was impressed at the discipline of the group that came on the tour bus and dutifully trooped up and down the dunes in a line. I saw many examples of our typical family gathering, when a few people go up and then disappear for what seems like hours while others wait at the bottom wondering if the first group is lost.

I sat for over an hour waiting for Anna and Madison. I talked to the family sharing our picnic table and turned a forgotten video camera over the a park ranger. I fielded questions from people who had seen the 350 and wondered what it was (a family reunion?) I explained that this action was both a precursor to international events being planned for October 24th and a follow up to Bill McKibben's talk in Traverse City last fall, when he saw mentioned on his own dune tour how cool it would be to se folks depict a 350 on that landscape.

Finally we packed up and drove home, getting ice cream bars in Maple City and dropping Madison off at her house. All traces of 350 were gone from the dunes, but Anna and Madison had put two new tracks on by rolling all of the way down.

It was nice this morning to see that the EPA is going to start regulating greenhouse gas emissions on the nations biggest producers, mainly power plants. Even dunes can move.

P.S. There are more pictures of the event here.