When words fail...

[Video inside... Click to see full post].
Bill McKibben editor of American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau and author of The End of Nature has been trying to convey the urgency of climate change to the world. But, sadly, words failed him like they failed countless others like him. He writes:

How do you say: the world you know today, the world you were born into, the world that has remained essentially the same for all of human civilization, that has birthed every play and poem and novel and essay, every painting and photograph, every invention and economy, every spiritual system (and every turn of phrase) is about to be . . . something so different? Somehow “global warming” barely hints at it. The same goes for any of the other locutions, including “climate chaos.” And if we do come up with adequate words in one culture, they won’t necessarily translate into all the other languages whose speakers must collaborate to somehow solve this problem.

Basically, at a time when only soundbites manage to find their way through to the collective consciousness of the masses, they were trying to solve an apparently unsolvable communication problem.

But then, when, to the great dismay of scientists, the Northwest Passage opened amid the great Arctic melt in 2007, James Hanson ("our greatest climatologist") came up with a magic number:

[In a presentation James Hansen] gave at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last December, he named a number: 350 parts per million carbon dioxide. That, he said, was the absolute upper bound of anything like safety—above it and the planet would be unraveling. Is unraveling, because we’re already at 385 parts per million. And so it’s a daring number, a politically unwelcome one. It means, in shorthand, that this generation of people—politicians especially—can’t pass the problem down to their successors.
[...]
For me, the number was a revelation. With a few friends I’d been trying to figure out how to launch a global grassroots climate campaign—a follow-up to the successful Step It Up effort that organized fourteen hundred demonstrations across the U.S. one day last spring and put the demand for an 80 percent cut in America’s carbon emissions at the center of the political debate. We need to apply even more pressure, and to do it on a global scale—it is, after all, global warming. But my friends and I were having a terrible time seeing how to frame this next effort. For one thing, the 180 or so countries that will negotiate a new international treaty over the next eighteen months are pretty much beyond the reach of effective lobbying—we can maybe influence the upcoming American election, but the one in Kenya? In Guatemala? In China? And for another, everyone insists on speaking those different languages. A Babel, this world.

But a number works. And this is a good one. Arcane, yes—parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. But at least it means the same thing in every tongue, and it even bridges the gap between English and metric. And so we secured the all-important URL: 350.org. (Easier said than done.) And we settled on our mission: To tattoo that number into every human brain. To make every person on Planet Earth aware of it, in the same way that most of them know the length of a soccer field (even though they call it a football pitch or a voetbal gebied). If we are able to make that happen, then the negotiations now under way, and due to conclude in Copenhagen in December of 2009, will be pulled as if by a kind of rough and opaque magic toward that goal. It will become the definition of success or of failure. It will set the climate for talking about climate.

One of the new group's first video is a marvel of translinguistic creativity. Enjoy:

Read the full article, When Words Fail.
Visit 350.org.

Now, I do wish I knew how to make a video like this one. I'd like to know how they did it, with which tool, etc. Maybe I can ask them to Open Source it...

Meanwhile, I am very happy to redirect some of the very little traffic that this web site is getting to theirs which is, importantly, much more
successful in spreading an important message.

Many thanks to Heidi Chay for sending me the links.