It's Going to Be Beautiful

Bill McKibben: There are reasons to be encouraged about the negotiations in Copenhagen, and ways to get involved in your own backyard.

Posted by Bill McKibben at Dec 11, 2009 03:46 PM |
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It's Going to Be Beautiful

Delegates have been moved by striking images of citizen actions in support of the 350 ppm target. Photo courtesy of

I know many of you are busy preparing for this weekend's vigils, and I know you're all hearing a lot about the climate talks in Copenhagen.

But since we're all working on the same team, I wanted to give you an inside/outside sense of all that's happening in one of the more important weeks in the history of this ball of rock and water we call the earth.

From inside Copenhagen, our crew (which at exactly 350 mostly young souls is reportedly the largest accredited delegation to the talks!) reports the following:

  • It's cold and gray and the sun sets at 3:30 pm, but exciting to be in a world where everyone is focused on the climate. Sometimes, amongst all the wonderful activists from every corner of the world, you can really sense how the planet might come together.
  • As of Wednesday evening, the 350 target is still in the treaty's "negotiating text." Our movement's lobbying efforts—both in the UN and around the world—might end up bearing fruit. Few negotiators have managed to avoid our briefing papers on the science of 350, and many of them are showing their support in style with 350 ties and lapel pins. But the most persuasive lobbying tool has proven to be the photos—your photos—from the 350 events around the world. Amidst all the compromises and politicking, seeing 350 as a possible element of a global climate treaty is a refreshing acknowledgment of the reality of physics and chemistry—and a crucial reminder of the bottom line for this whole elaborate process.
  • More and more countries and leaders are using the 350 figure publicly. Bolivia stepped up to the plate and made the 350 target a main point of their opening statement; then Al Gore gave a remarkable speech saying no matter what happens we have to keep working till we get to 350. Yesterday in the New York Times, Thomas Lovejoy, one of the planet's great biologists, put it bluntly: "350 ppm--that is the upper limit for dangerous interference with ecosystems." And it's sinking in. Countries on the front lines of climate change—like small Pacific islands and many drought-inflicted African countries—are taking stronger stances and refusing to accept the limp compromises currently on the negotiating table. There is a growing understanding that simply getting a deal in Copenhagen is not the point—that any deal that does not point us towards 350 is, in a very real sense, a failure.

And a few updates from outside Copenhagen, where people all over the world are getting ready for this weekend's vigils:

  • In the Netherlands alone, 447 churches will be ringing their bells 350 times this Sunday (here in Denmark there will be a huge church service at the main cathedral, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance and with the bell tolling 350 times). These are just a portion of the many "sounds of 350" events that people are registering for this weekend.
  • We're hearing about really beautiful vigils planned almost everywhere: bicycle caravans converging on the US embassy in Hanoi; concerts in Bolivia and Caracas; a bridge of lights across the river in Portland, Oregon; women and girls gathering in Fiji to make "climate art" from recycled materials. And everywhere people will be shining light and hope into this troubled world: candles and high-efficiency LEDs in Cali and Wellington, Guadalajara and Sydney, on and on. In Hawai'i, surfers will paddle out into the ocean with candles on their boards, and the sacred mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea framed in the background. And here in Copenhagen, we're working with our allies to help coordinate a candlelight vigil with Desmond Tutu and other prominent global leaders. In no uncertain terms—and in visually striking ways—we'll demand a real deal from our leaders. It's going to be beautiful.

Don't get too excited, or too despairing, at any of the news reports coming out from the conference—remember, this is one stop on a long journey towards a just and working planet.

You are the people leading that journey, and we're profoundly grateful for it.

Bill McKibben author

Bill McKibben is the founder of and a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. His most recent books are Deep Economy, Fight Global Warming Now, and The Bill McKibben Reader.

YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of the U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

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