THTV: Bill McKibben On 350, Winning Change & Encouraging Signs

Last spring, the day after PowerShift 2009, I caught up with Bill McKibben in NYC. Tired and exhilarated, Bill shared the feeling of having won the victory of shutting down the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant in Washington D.C. Well guess what? The battle against GHG emissions is win-able. As long as we put a plus sign next to the number 350 to add what's missing.The odds are tough, our species isn't engineered to plan much past the next winter, but we're making a dent and reducing emissions on some fronts. Lester Brown told us just the other day about the 9 percent decline in carbon emissions in the last two years and Yale University recently announced having reduced emissions 7% while growing by 5.5% since 2005. And that's what the 350 messaging is all about, keeping a PMA and a PMT: Positive Mental Target.

However last August, New Scientist ran an article about how the carrot works better than the stick when it comes to changing behavior. In one study on home energy conservation habits and motivators:

... researchers told households what others in their neighbourhood used on average. High users cut their consumption in response, but low users increased theirs. The problem disappeared if the messages were reinforced with sad or smiley faces. The smileys received by the residents who were already saving energy provided sufficient encouragement for them to keep doing so.

And therein lies the genius of the positive 350 campaign and, for the moment, its current not insurmountable shortcoming: it is more the destination than the journey.

I was one of the first folks to promote 350 and know that future generations will look back and see it as a key tool used for trying to alter the course of human civilization. I will hazard a guess that our ancestors will put their finger not on tomorrow's Global Day of Climate Action, nor on Copenhagen. Rather, they will note the joy taken in the actual cuts in emissions made. The pride in the very palpable accomplishments accrued. They'll recognize that our fear at the thought of failure was melted away and evaporated like the unsubstantial yet none-the-less powerful emotion it is. They'll see that while we got hard and turned to global action and civil disobedience, we loved ourselves for the choice of actions we ourselves made. And in that emotional wisdom, came the realization that each very real step on the journey was itself a victory. Through that way of being, we became invincible.

A fellow TreeHugger pointed out the other day that Garrison Keillor once said: the perfect bean soup has 239 beans...because one more would be 240.

On the road to 350 let us again turn to cliché:

You can lead a horse to water...

and on the 1037th time, he drinks.

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