Yes You Can! protest.500 marshmallows organize for climate action.Robert van Waarden / Spectral QFor better or worse, ours is the age of distraction. Texting while in lectures, talking while in the car driving, iphoning while going, well, anywhere really. The possibilities for connecting beyond our immediate environment can take 25 hours of the day, and those possibilities are multiplying exponentially. I wonder whether all that factors into why I’m having trouble paying attention in what will be the most important international negotiation process since the end of the Second World War.

I’m one of about 30 young people around the world facilitating a project called 350.org – using the red line for CO2 in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million, to link up local climate efforts for one pointed message from around the world late this October.  Of course, parts per million doesn’t really get the blood going, so the goal is to make the number 350 real through local action.

Much of our efforts are directed at the UNFCCC – the body negotiating the next global climate agreement, which will be finalized in Copenhagen this December. The negotiating text is now on the table, complete with hundreds of brackets showing the possible direction of the treaty, from good to downright ugly. Possibilities for steering below 350 are there, enshrined beautifully in Option 2 of Point 12 of Annex I: A shared vision for long-term cooperative action, within the Ad Hoc Working Group on Longterm Cooperative Action Under the Convention. Also a big adrenaline booster there.

My particular trouble is that the global response to the 350 project is way more dynamic, creative, and interesting than the UNFCCC. Compare the diversity of apps on an iphone to, say, pre-algebra class. I’m distracted. For one, photos and media hits are still coming in from the weekend. It’s not often I get to step out from behind the emails and website coordination for the project, so when I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty with a massive aerial art project this Saturday, the negotiations over comma placement began to look less appealing. 

Witness 500 people, in the rain, voluntarily dressing up like marshmallows, and lying in the wet grass for forty minutes. It’s really quite amazing what we’ll do to be a part of something beautiful.  The message is urgency – the clock is tck tck tcking, and it’s time for a bold and fair deal. It’s empowering – Yes We Can elect a progressive black President in the U.S., so what’s the big deal about a global binding climate treaty with hard-hitting 2020 targets? And it’s agenda setting – if that deal doesn’t steer a course back below 350, the people in this building haven’t done their job. 

Four hundred or so of those marshmallows stood up from their place in the aerial, grabbed signs and green hard hats, and tromped twenty minutes up the road to rally outside the negotiations. Reports from inside were that delegates stopped meetings and opened the curtains to see what all the racket was about. Word was that they could hear the speeches echoing outside.  It’s understandable, of course, but they got a little distracted.

So it’s not just me. We can distract the world’s nations with beautiful art and raucous shouts. They’re probably not too psyched about the next comma placement discussion either. We can distract them enough to see the massive groundswell of civil society around the world for a equitable, safe climate. About half of my emails involve bouncing around ideas, plans, and partnerships for October 24 of this year, when all that work will shine out in one massive, distracting, call for climate safety below 350ppm. If the Bonn negotiations are any indication, the world’s representatives will pull back the curtain on their insular meetings here, and we will have one of our best shots at bringing the world into this process.