Almost two years ago, aerial artist John Quigley brought more than 500 community residents and several movie stars together to spell out the words “Arctic Warning” way up in the Arctic Circle. The event was documented by Everything’s Cool co-director Daniel B. Gold, and makes an appearance in the film. On Monday, Quigley arranged nearly 1,000 Utah middle schoolers to send a response to the Arctic and the rest of the world: “Step it up — go carbon neutral.”

In an event organized by Working Films, the non-profit organization heading up the outreach and activism campaign for Everything’s Cool, the middle schoolers were first shown the clip of their peers up north spelling out a call to action. The event connected the folks featured in the film, including Inuit climate activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, with other climate causes like Step It Up, headed by regular Grist contributor Bill McKibben.

“We’ve got to connect,” said Watt-Cloutier. “The issue of connectivity is so important. We’ve got to understand that we’re a shared humanity here, and whatever is happening in the Arctic, it’s just a matter of time before it starts to happen elsewhere.”

The students, along with local volunteers and the cast and crew of Everything’s Cool, first spelled out “Step it up,” and then morphed into “Go carbon neutral.”

The event was meant to raise awareness — among the kids, through media broadcasts of the action, and throughout Sundance attendees.

“We really need new forms of building community, new activities, and this creates a very unique experience for kids and adults,” said Quigley. “For me what really turns me on about it is the possibility of enlarging and building communities through gatherings like this.”

“There always was that question, was anybody really listening,” said Everything’s Cool co-director and producer Judith Helfand. “And our country really has to do some active listening in order for anything to really work. And Sundance is this extraordinary opportunity not just to get your movie out, but to get your movie out in a very meaningful way.”

And short of a few near-catastrophes (a kid in the “A” of “carbon” got too cold and had to be taken inside, and some other punk tried to start a snowball fight), the event went off without a hitch. And the kids — well, most of them already knew more about global warming than the rest of us. One kid (dressed in shorts no less), told me about the need to increase fuel economy standards. Others talked about riding the bus more often.

“I think these kids were the perfect representation that you don’t have to be a hardcore environmentalist,” said Step It Up organizer Jamie Henn, also on hand for the event. “You can just be someone who realizes it’s a problem, and wants to get outside for a day and do something fun, and are willing to stand the cold for a little bit.”


Hundreds of middle schoolers, hot for global warming.


Aerial artist John Quigley sends a (literally) large message about global warming.


In the line of duty.


Let us spell it out for you.


Full of more than just hot air.

Aerial photos by Chris Pilaro.