MIDDLEBURY — On Sunday, Oct. 10, Bill McKibben is hosting a party, and everyone is invited.
But don’t expect to find finger foods or karaoke at this shindig — party games will include building a solar panel out of soda cans, planting a community garden or even converting cars to run on vegetable oil.
The “10/10/10 Global Work Party” is a way for McKibben and 350.org, the international organization devoted to solving climate crisis, to encourage people, worldwide, to get busy and get to work in their own communities on solving the global warming issue.
In Addison County, at least 10 different events are planned. The Rev. Andy Nagy-Benson is encouraging parishioners at the Congregational Church of Middlebury to walk or ride bikes to services that day. A language affinity group at Middlebury College will construct a new clothesline in the back yard of the French House. A local family plans to chop wood for their woodstove to reduce the need for foreign-produced heating oil and to be an example for others to follow.
The Global Work Party concept was first coined last February, when McKibben and his team of ’06-’07 Middlebury College graduates set up camp in a rented house in Leicester for a month and began planning their strategy for the upcoming year. Rather than follow the same model of a large-scale political rally that they put into action last Oct. 24, McKibben and his crew opted for something fresh.
“Last year at 350.org, we held a global political rally that CNN called the biggest of its kind, but this year we wanted to do something different,” said McKibben, a Middlebury College scholar in residence and Ripton resident. “We really wanted to give people a chance to do something within their communities that would help them give back.”
He predicts that the event will be the same scale as last year’s event, and maybe even a little larger.
GATHERING THE TROOPS
So far, plenty seem to have taken McKibben up on his invitation. As of Wednesday afternoon, in over 174 different countries, individuals and organizations have planned 5,127 events to take place on 10/10/10. The number — posted on the 350.org homepage — grows larger each day.
“People all over the world will be doing things like putting up solar panels, weatherizing their homes, harvesting a community garden, laying bike paths and all sorts of other things that are really good things to do,” McKibben said. “And when people put down their hammers and shovels, we hope that they’ll call their governors, senators, politburos, prime ministers, what have you, and say, ‘Hey, if I can climb up on the roof of my school and hammer in a solar panel, you should be able to get out on the floor and hammer out some legislation.’”
McKibben said that they are thinking realistically — he realizes that the 10/10/10 event will not directly lead to the passage of clean-energy legislation. But though he and his crew cannot necessarily push through any big legislation right now, McKibben explained that campaigns like this are key to building a leg for the clean energy bills to stand on.
The hope is that public officials will feel more public pressure to act than they did last December at the United Nations Climate Conference in Denmark, where little or no progress was made to fight global warming.
“With this event our efforts are focused on starting to build a big, coherent movement powerful enough to drive politics so that we can avoid being beaten, like we were at Copenhagen, where we were beat by the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
A GRASSROOTS EFFORT
Though 10/10/10 looms just on the horizon, McKibben feels confident that the final total number of events will nearly double. He said that judging from his past experience, these things always tend to come together at the last minute.
“I’d be surprised if we didn’t reach 7,000 events by 10/10/10,” he estimated.
The events run the gamut from 1,500 Dutch Boy Scouts getting together to promote climate action to a group of New York City residents who plan on painting their roofs white. A group in Korea will host a bike race through Seoul, and Vietnamese schoolchildren are planning to put together an event that will coincide with the 1,000-year anniversary of their town, also on Oct. 10 — the variety is nearly endless, McKibben said.
“And many of them are very touching,” he added.
Of the thousands of work parties planned to take place all across the world, several will take place right here in Addison County. The town of Middlebury Energy Team teamed up with Middlebury College’s Sunday Night Group, a climate change organization, to host a Carbon Buster “fashion show” rally that will take place on the town green, 1-3 p.m. The rally will showcase things — like how to construct a bike rack, or build a solar panel with soda cans — that can help people reduce their carbon footprints.
“The idea is to get to work on a project on 10/10/10 to reduce your carbon footprint any way you can,” said town Energy Coordinator Laura Asermily. “Do something concrete. You come to the green to get ideas and motivation.”
Asermily and the rest of the Middlebury Area Global Warming Action Coalition have been at work on the climate change issue for a number of years now.
“Bill McKibben came on the scene very much at the same time that we did and we did similar things — our work complimented each other,” Asermily said.
Students and local citizens have collaborated before on events to raise awareness about climate change, such as the 2007 “Step it Up” rally, which Asermily said was a sort of precursor to the 10/10/10 initiative. Since that first, large-scale rally, the idea has only continued to grow, according to Asermily.
“It’s been like dropping a pebble in the middle, and concentric rings of rallying keep growing around it and getting bigger, and bigger and bigger,” she said.
Like McKibben, Asermily understands that these rallies may not make for immediate change in legislation, but she agrees that these group gatherings are a necessary building block for the movement at large.
“It’s a very effective way to gain awareness,” she said. “Building the sort of network that you need in order to start getting legislation passed takes a lot of time, and this is a good way to start putting that in place.”
Along with the event on the town green, Sunday Night Group students are also hosting a series of events on campus including yoga in the morning, and group laundry hanging on outdoor clotheslines. Students will also harvest food for the local food bank, and go door-to-door registering voters.
Similarly, the student-run Race to Replace organization will host a “dorm rush” in an attempt to register more voters on campus. After canvassing the hallways of the various residential buildings on campus on Oct. 9, students will gather for an all-night party to celebrate the onset of 10/10/10.
Beyond Middlebury, elementary schools in Cornwall and Ripton will perform garden maintenance and will possibly install solar panels. For details on local events go to www.350.org/en/map.
Though McKibben will be supervising the bash from the 350.org headquarters in London, he will be at the local 10/10/10 work parties in spirit.
“I tend to take the whole state of Vermont, and Addison County, for granted because I know that they will get started on things without me having to say a word,” he said. “Instead, I tend to focus on places like Malawi, where maybe they haven’t heard about what’s happening, and, you know, Utah.”
To get involved with an event or to register your own, visit 350.org or contact Laura Asermily for more information on Middlebury action.
Tamara Hilmes is at email@example.com.