350.org: Right-ish Message, Wrong Method


24 October 2009.

Remember that date, because in the future hundreds of thousands of people who took part in thousands of events worldwide will look back and say to themselves: “Why did I think that would do any good?”

Those thousands upon thousands of people are not the people I am blaming for thinking that by marching, letter writing, lobbying, petitioning and otherwise taking part in all sorts of conventional “actions” great changes would begin to take place. No, I have no problem with those people because, quite frankly, what else are they supposed to do? After all, the environmental groups, writers and high-profile campaigners that are regarded as the leaders of the “environmental movement” (sorry for all the quotes) told them that’s what they needed to do — and promised so much. To quote the website largely responsible for this most recent phenomenon:

To tackle climate change we need to move quickly, and we need to act in unison—and 2009 will be an absolutely crucial year. This December, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions. The problem is, the treaty currently on the table doesn’t meet the severity of the climate crisis—it doesn’t pass the 350 test.

In order to unite the public, media, and our political leaders behind the 350 goal, we’re harnessing the power of the internet to coordinate a planetary day of action on October 24, 2009. We hope to have actions at hundreds of iconic places around the world – from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef to your community – and clear message to world leaders: the solutions to climate change must be equitable, they must be grounded in science, and they must meet the scale of the crisis.

If an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start the global transformation we so desperately need.

To take this at face value, it would be inconceivable to think that by taking thousands of photos and getting them into the media, these leaders (our leaders, we are told) would not make sufficient changes in policy to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide down to that critical figure of 350 parts per million. Why would you think any other way — these people told you it would be enough:

Bill McKibben
Rajendra Pachauri
Vandana Shiva
Abp. Desmond Tutu
Dr. James Hansen
Liz Thomson
Pres. Mohamed Nasheed
Bianca Jagger
David Suzuki
Van Jones
George Monbiot
Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Will Steger
Barbara Kingsolver
Hermann Scheer
Alex Steffen
Mathis Wackernagel
Colin Beavan
Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt
Homero Aridjis
Paul Loeb
Deepa Gupta
Ross Gelbspan
Keibo Oiwa
Claudio Angelo
Thomas Homer-Dixon
Bo Ekman
Bulu Imam

Well, perhaps not those precise words, for in the world of soundbites and voxpops, it’s very easy to get carried away and lend your name to something simply because it seems like a good thing to do.

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”

That’s James Hansen, quoted on www.350.org. Where did he say that by taking photos and getting them on the agendas of political high-ups the problem would be consigned to history? It wouldn’t be too strong to suggest that some of these people have been duped by 350.org, and that the people behind the campaign are so deluded by their own concept of “action” that they couldn’t possibly imagine that anyone would think anything different.

I’m not making this up; here is an exchange from way back in May 2008, when the group was first set up, and I found their MySpace page:

From: Keith
Date: May 28, 2008 4:33 AM

Hi 350 (or rather sub-350)

Glad to see someone taking a realistic look at things. I wrote a short article recently on The Sietch, which you might like to look at, based around this subject:


Keep up the good work, and if you have any radical (not symbolic) ideas for “things to do” then let me know.





Thanks for the note. Something radical (not symbolic) that you can do is raise awareness in your community by holding a 350 event, and then make sure everybody calls their elected leaders asking them to push for legislation that has strong enough carbon cuts to get to 350 ppm.


Phil Aroneanu
350. org

At the time I had nearly completed writing my book, and had come to understand very clearly the huge gulf between the effectiveness of Symbolic and Non-Symbolic actions. Phil’s response demonstrated a level of delusion I had not come across since that realisation: he really thought that by holding an event and appealing to “elected leaders” the 100% cuts in industrial nations’ emissions necessary by 2030 (or earlier) would happen. He really did.

Dear Phil

I need to take this discussion off MySpace, as I think your response (see below) has doomed any chance of 350.org working, and you need to know this as soon as possible.

“Something radical (not symbolic) that you can do is raise awareness in your community by holding a 350 event, and then make sure everybody calls their elected leaders asking them to push for legislation that has strong enough carbon cuts to get to 350 ppm.”

Could you please explain in what way doing exactly the same thing that has repeatedly failed in the past to achieve even modest cuts in emissions is going to achieve the 100% cut required to return to 350ppm? Could you please explain how “holding a 350 event” is radical?

I really thought 350.org was the cusp of something different, yet you still are still trying to convince people that “their elected leaders” will do anything that turns its back on the existing consumer culture (a.k.a. Culture of Maximum Harm) — the very culture these “elected leaders” and the brainwashed public are convinced is the only way to live.

I wish you well with your campaign: I don’t want to say it will fail, but it will. If you want to know how to actually get the carbon levels down adequately then the non-technological, non-political, non-symbolic answers are out there — I have some of them, as do a number of other people who have been ostracised by the environmental mainstream: you only have to ask. Bill McKibben was *almost* there about three-quarters of the way through “The End of Nature” then he seemed to lose his nerve, and has deradicalised considerably in the last few years. The environmental movement has singularly failed to address the root cause of the problem, largely because the environmental movement is a big part of the problem.

Please read this quote from my book (www.amatterofscale.com) and then maybe you will start to understand:

—– Start of quote —–

So, go and protest, make some noise, wave some banners, sign a petition: just make sure you stay within the law. I mean it – protest of some form or another is permitted in most nations, but the severity and the type of protest allowed depends in the legislation that is in place; both standing legislation and the widely used “state of emergency” which, in fact is simply an extension of the existing laws. As the Zimbabweans ponder their electoral fate, the Mugabe regime has imposed “emergency” laws to prevent any form of gathering that may threaten the government. What the Mugabe regime knows only too well is that in Zimbabwe, as with many other African, South American and Asian states, protest often takes an entirely different form to the type of protest the people of the industrial West have become accustomed too. The Mugabe regime know that real protest is capable of overthrowing governments; whereas in the USA, for instance, it almost goes without saying that protest will lead to nothing more than a warm feeling in the hearts of those taking part:

One will find hundreds, sometimes thousands, assembled in an orderly fashion, listening to selected speakers calling for an end to this or that aspect of lethal state activity, carrying signs “demanding” the same thing.and – typically – the whole thing is quietly disbanded with exhortations to the assembled to “keep working” on the matter and to please sign a petition.

Throughout the whole charade it will be noticed that the state is represented by a uniformed police presence keeping a discreet distance and not interfering with the activities. And why should they? The organizers will have gone through “proper channels” to obtain permits. Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others.their function is to ensure the demonstrators remain “responsible,” not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest.[i]

Laughable, isn’t it, that such a well controlled event – and this is the way every official rally I have ever been on works – should be considered a “protest” by the organisers? The laws in each country are tailored to suit the appetite of the population for change: a country full of people that want to fight for change needs to be kept tightly controlled; a country full of catatonic, drip-fed consumers can march all they like, be given a well-controlled soapbox on TV – and the voltage on the tasers can be turned right down.

That is, unless someone decides to break the law.


Every day, in all sorts of ways, we hand over the responsibility of our actions to other parties. We entrust religious leaders to act as proxy supreme beings, to give us blessings and pray for the delivery of our souls and, as is becoming more common, the protection of the natural environment. We entrust politicians to justly run districts, states, countries, the whole planet, on our behalf, and deliver whatever is in their jurisdiction from whatever evils we have asked them to deal with. We ask the heads of corporations to use profits wisely, to provide fair wages, allow union representation and listen to their staff and respond appropriately – we ask them not to destroy the planet. We ask environmental organisations to look after the planet on our behalf, to lobby fiercely and petition prudently, to give us a world worth living in.

We are guilty of a mass dereliction of responsibility.

When we vote we hope the politicians will do the right thing after they have been elected. When we buy a product from a company, we hope that company are acting in the best interests of everyone and every thing they impact. When we sign a petition, go on a protest march or write a letter, we hope that it will change things for the better. But it is never that simple.

Voters vote for different things: your hope that a politician will increase pollution controls will be running counter to the hope of another voter that pollution controls will be weakened. Your entrustment of a company that they will act ethically runs contrary to the basic needs of a shareholder in that same company, that demands an increase in profits, which requires poorer labour standards, increased use of natural resources, corner cutting and cost slashing across the board. Your petition or protest march may give you hope that something will change when in fact you have simply channelled your anger and concern into a symbolic action that threatens not a single media executive, company director or head of state. You innocently believed that right would out simply because you placed your demands on the wings of dear hope.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free – truly free – to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. When hope dies, action begins.[ii]


[i] Ward Churchill, “Pacifism As Pathology”, AK Press, 2007.
[ii] Derrick Jensen, “Endgame Volume I: The Problem Of Civilization”, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

—– End of quote —–

Your campaign seems to be based on the hope that something magical will change through holding “events” and lobbying politicians and corporations to change. This approach has pointedly failed for the last 40 years, and yet continues because it feels like something is being done, even while, all the time, the emissions keep going up. There is not one shred of evidence to suggest such an approach will ever work. The point is, emissions will keep going up all the time industrial civilization owns humanity.

I don’t expect you to understand, though, just as 99% of people brainwashed by this culture do not understand. The answers do not lie within the system, the answers lie within ourselves — people who may be addicted to the system but are still individuals who can decide to step out of the toxic river, and maybe knock out a few shopping malls, power plants and TV stations as they go.

Yours in desperate times

Keith Farnish

He never did respond. I didn’t expect him too.

If you are planning to go to a 350.org event, then please go, but don’t go expecting the group’s aims to change anything: go with a view to helping people understand that only by rejecting the system that the group’s organisers are still pandering to, can the atmospheric carbon levels go below 350 parts per million. Either that, or the Earth will reject humanity.

This was taken from The Unsuitablog. Keith Farnish is author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis.
EDIT: Have amended the title because, as we all know, even 350ppm isn’t low enough, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving anyone a false sense of security.

5 thoughts on “350.org: Right-ish Message, Wrong Method”

  1. Where To From Here?

    My answer must be Washington DC. The masses will come to march in silence, accompanied by the steady cadence of drums. Silence represents the serious nature of this Climate Change issue! March soon and often but remember that civil obedience will be that magic ticket that will give stature to our cause! Civil Disobedience is the hallmark of trouble maker bent on destroying our rights of peaceful assembly!

  2. How very sad, that people still think that change will be created by subservience. Stand still and be quiet; do what you are told; all good citizens — all good slaves.

    Name one historic change for the better that has come about through “civil obedience”.

  3. The word Civil Disobedience is an oxymoron … enough said.

    There is a time for noise as there is a time for joy.

    The noise is the DRUM (or DRUMS) the focus is the shocking silence scream … can’t you hear it!

  4. Truth, the first casualty of logic spent,
    shows man’s nature can be devious bent!

    Global Warming, seas are storming,
    skeptic’s spinning and our world’s not winning!

    They attack the science or spin the bias
    but motives show through want of lies.

    They attack the messenger if they can’t twist the truth.
    What’s within their minds needs support with proof!

    They claim, eyes that see and ears that hear
    yet a mind so closed, there’s much too fear!

    Change is slow as momentum grows.
    The helm must steer long before the ship will veer!

    Gaia’s hypothesis says life may … survive this rush,
    but the clincher is “not with us!”

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