What a Difference a Year Makes: The Slowing Momentum in the Climate Change Movement

By Ellen Whelan-Wuest, staff editor On October 24, 2009, thousands of people organized over 3,400 demonstrations around the world to demand the adoption of new energy policies.  Nearly one year later, on October 10, 2010 (10/10/10), a similar day of action was coordinated and the number of events worldwide more than doubled.  However, despite this increase in grassroots participation, American media coverage of this year’s day of action was almost non-existent, marking a dramatic contrast with last year when several major national news outlets covered the events.  There are several possible explanations for the relative media silence that followed 10/10/10, but certainly one of them is the backwards shift in the climate change movement’s political momentum over the last year.

Both days were coordinated by 350.org, a climate change organization named after what scientists conclude is the safe limit for parts per million of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere (the current concentration is 388.15 parts per million).  Last year’s events focused largely on taking photos of representations of the number 350, which were subsequently sent to media outlets.  The New York Times published dozens of these photos as a slide show on the front page of the New York Times website, and CNN declared October 24 “the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history.”

This past Sunday focused less on symbols and more on action.  Participants attended work parties rather than rallies, at which attendants participated in green projects such as planting neighborhood gardens and installing solar panels.  There were over 7,300 work parties around the world, a huge increase from last year’s rallies, but the corresponding media coverage was greatly decreased.

This decline in media coverage is likely symptomatic of other setbacks in the climate change movement over the twelve months.  Last October, international climate talks in Copenhagen were up coming and the 350 demonstrations were partly intended to pressure the American delegation into providing progressive environmental leadership at the talks.  As we now know, this did not come to pass.  In the spring, the costs of oil consumption became painfully obvious as the saga of the BP oil spill played out, and it seemed as if there might be sufficient political and popular support for climate change legislation.  However, in August a landmark climate bill quietly died in the halls of Congress with no signs of coming back to life even after the midterm elections.

Heading into November 2nd, economic growth (or the lack thereof) has dominated the national political debate and seemingly overshadowed the significance and scope of the 10/10/10 events.  One year later, the political momentum behind the climate change movement has slowed to a near halt, and the question remains- what more will it take, beyond seven thousand worldwide demonstrations, to engender the political will and leadership the environmental movement has been fighting for?

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