Burlington Vermont Day of Climate Action

October 26, 2009 by Elizabeth Sawin


This Saturday  I had great fun participating in Burlington, Vermont’s contribution to the International Day of Climate Action. Here are a few pictures and the text of the speech I gave:

Welcome to the celebration!

Today, October 24th, 2039 marks the thirtieth anniversary of a historic day. Historians agree that October 24th was the day when world’s people came together for the first time to declare a goal for the amount of CO2 in our shared atmosphere – 350 parts per million.

I was there on Oct 24th, 2009 – on a rainy afternoon at City Hall Park in Burlington Vermont. I know many of you were there as well.

As the world’s governments prepared to meet for the 15th time since 1992 – this time in Copenhagen – to try to agree to a climate treaty strong enough to prevent dangerous global warming, the people of the world took matters into their own hands.

At that time, computer models were predicting that, with no action CO2 levels would reach 900 ppm by the end of the century. Models suggested that in October, 2009, the pledges of action on the UN table would be enough to bring future CO2 levels down to 700 ppm – enough to save some species, some cities, some ecosystems, but not nearly enough to satisfy the people of those days, especially the young people, the vibrant organizers of the International Day of Climate Action.

And act they did.

They acted on horseback in Mongolia with a banner that proclaimed “350”.

They carried their “350” banners to the tops of mountains and underwater to coral reefs.

crowd 2Children grinned at the camera behind their hand-lettered banners in Nairobi, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Mumbai.

People made a 3 in Israel on the shore of the dwindling Dead Sea.

Their neighbors made a 5 in on the beach in Palestine.

And their neighbors made a 0 in Jordan.

They made art about 350, and songs, and they danced together, too.

On October 24th, 2009, people already knew that our Earth was fraying beneath their feet, that the ice was melting the ocean acidifying, the storms worsening.

They knew the peril, were aware of the mounting losses, but that didn’t blind them to the gifts of those times, the awakening of a sense of global solidarity, the recognition of how irreplaceable our precious Earth really is, and how much they loved their families, their communities and wild places of the Earth. They remembered how responsible they felt for future generations.

And so, on October 24th, people came together at their events around the world and realized that people they would never know whose language they would never speak were standing in their own beautiful place, holding the hands of their own beloved children, claiming their birthright to live and love and work and contribute and sing and dance and grow old on a planet with a stable climate.

Of course it didn’t end there – the people of the world didn’t stop after October 24th. They knew that naming the goal -350 – was only the beginning.

In that same year – 2009 – a new tool sprang up, from a small team of computer modelers. It allowed for real time tracking of the proposals on the table in the negotiations because it added up the pledges on the table in the UN process and forecasted the long-term impacts on the climate.

The treaty negotiators began to rely on this information and so did citizens around the globe. The modelers made the information available over the internet, to everyone. They called it the climate scoreboard. There they posted the state of the global deal, and they created an embeddable version of the scoreboard that anyone could add to their own websites and blogs and Facebook pages.

Churches, community groups, youth, labor groups, more and more people started tracking the gap between their goals and the pledges on the table. They posted the results in their newsletters and bulletins. During the negotiations in Copenhagen they arranged for electronic billboards showing the scoreboard in strategic locations.

And the people applied pressure where it mattered. Applying pressure in the US was critical in moving the negotiations ahead, because China and India didn’t move until the US passed strong climate legislation at home.

You know the rest from the history books. You know how the work wasn’t finished in Copenhagen, how it took a few more rounds of international summits. But you know that eventually, with all the world’s countries signed on to a low carbon future the incentives finally started to line up the right way for investment in renewable energy, public transportation, efficiency, organic agriculture, forest perseveration, walkable cities and all the rest.

You know how quickly the other benefits were realized – improved public health as coal was phased out and bike lanes where phased in, higher air and water quality, new jobs and new industries, increased global security as conflict over oil and other resources declined, and a sense of common purpose and local community as people came together and worked together.

As we look back, historians say it was those years starting in 2009 when the work was the toughest – setting the goal and turning the tide – once the ball began to roll it quickly became unstoppable, bringing us to today, when finally, after decades of effort we see CO2 emissions as their lowest point in generations.


OK, I don’t really know what someone like me will say to a crowd like you in 2039.

But I think there is a very good chance that today will be remembered and looked back upon as the start of something very big, something very important.

In trying to imagine a speech from 30 years in the future I didn’t have to make up anything that doesn’t already exist. There are these 4800 events today in 182 countries  and there are only 192 parties in the UN process!

And you know the co-benefits are real. You know there will will be huge payoffs for health, the economy and communities once we get off of our carbon-intensive path and on to another one.

The small group of modelers dedicated to helping global civil society track the state of the climate deal  — that’s real too.

I’m one of them.

Our model is called C-ROADS. It’s being used by key negotiating parties in the UN process and we are dedicated to it being available to the media and civil society.

We call it the climate scoreboard. You’ll find it on the web at climatescoreboard.org.

Our team will be in Barcelona in November and Copenhagen in December, updating the scoreboard. The results are already on our website, and by next month you will be able to embed the scoreboard in your blogs and Facebook pages and share them with your networks.

Many civil society groups are already committed to using the scoreboard. It will be broadcast by the Global Observatory media project in Copenhagen, and groups are working on billboards in Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, and Karachi during the weeks of the Copenhagen summit.

And we think there will be more actions, actions our team hasn’t even imagined, because we have faith that people like you, people willing to come out in the rain to act on behalf of the climate and future generations will find endless, creative, constructive ways to use the climate scoreboard to pressure coax and cajole a strong, equitable agreement out of the global treaty process. An agreement capable of delivering an atmosphere stabilized at 350 ppm.

At ClimateScoreboard.org  we will give you all the data and analysis we can, updated as the negotiations evolve, in clear simple shareable forms.

Please use it early and often and well on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the goal of 350 ppm.

Thank you.