Locals rally on Amherst Common Saturday for International Day of Climate Action

By Christa Romano

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n.350pic2On Saturday, Oct. 24, members of the Amherst community rallied on the Amherst common, as part of an international attempt to send a message to members of the United Nations, calling for serious efforts to reduce global warming.

The event was sponsored by the international organization called 350. Despite the rainy weather, about 200 locals and students showed support for 350. The organization was also sponsor to over 5,200 events in 181 countries on Saturday, which was named “International Day of Climate Action.”

This December in Copenhagen, Denmark, the UN will meet to discuss a global treaty on cutting carbon dioxide emissions. At its current standing, carbon dioxide emissions are at a level of 390 parts per million, 40 parts above what NASA reports to be the safe limit for humanity. Carbon dioxide emissions need to be lowered to 350 ppm to stop the effects of global warming.

At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Amherst locals lined up to take their turn in ringing the church bells at the Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst center. The bells were rung 350 times, marking the beginning of the day’s events and symbolizing the community’s desire to lower greenhouse gases.

Many organizations including multiple student groups attended and showed their support of the event, including the University of Massachusetts Environmental Performance Advisory Committee, the Five College Environmental Action Committee and the Amherst High School Environmental Club.

“The whole idea of 350 and this event in particular is to get as much attention as possible from the area so we get support from our legislatures in Copenhagen,” said Julia Herman, a freshman at Mount Holyoke College and a member of the Five College EAC who attended the event. “We need to make changes and lower the carbon dioxide emissions. It’s really such an important issue, and it’s not something that we can just let go of.”

Herman said that she has been working with the Five College EAC all week, preparing for the International Day of Climate Action. “There have been lectures and film screenings all week. We’ve been brainstorming ideas for conservation and making posters and really trying to promote 350,” she said.

Saturday’s event consisted not only of the ringing of the bells and a gathering of climate action groups, but also featured performances by local musicians and singing groups, speeches from state politicians and the singing of the official 350 anthem. A large group photograph was also taken in which attendees of the event stood in the form of the numer “350.”  The photograph will be submitted to the organizations’ website and will collaborate with many other similar photographs taken all over the world.

Color and meaning was added to the Amherst photo by the vibrant, giant paper-cut-out maple leaves that participants held up during the event. The paper maple leaves were meant to symbolize the local trees that are suffering from global warming and were provided by the Episcopal Church’s Green and Grace Group. Member of the group, Sherry Wilson, handed out the hand-made leaves during the ringing of the bells as she educated people on the efforts of the church to go green.

“In March, we participated in a similar event called Earth Hour, when people around the world switched off all of their electricity for an hour,” Wilson said. “[The Episcopal Church] has also switched entirely to compact florescent light bulbs and have completed different weatherization projects.”

The Episcopal Church is not the only organization in Amherst making moves to incorporate green energy into daily utility. Representing the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project was Larry Ely. Ely advocated for different ways in which the Valley could cut back on carbon dioxide emissions.

“We need to promote growing and buying locally to cut back on emissions from transportation,” Ely said. “And we need to increase the effectiveness of public transportation, like using mini-busses at off-peak times and a more elaborate train system. Reconfiguring our towns to make denser populations will also save a lot of carbon.”

Ely admits that there would probably be “mixed feelings” about urbanization in the valley, but he emphasizes that these are the major ways to make this local area less responsible for carbon dioxide emissions.

The 350 event in Amherst did not produce any carbon dioxide emissions, despite its use of electricity. The PA system that was used throughout the day was completely green, running entirely off human energy. Students and locals alike took turns generating the electricity by a pedal-power machine, provided by Todd Holland, the Five College energy manager.

“It’s great to see the students getting involved in energy conservation,” Holland said, as he helped the next pair of students begin pedaling for power. “And it’s great to really make that visible connection between energy and its functions.”

While a pedal-powered generator is not something that many people have in their homes, there are other ways to reduce personal carbon footprints. Posters around the perimeter of the common were hung on the “clothes line” and offered advice on how to help with reduction. Tips included using a hand-pushed lawn mower instead of an electric or to unplug any electrical device when not in use.

In addition to the early afternoon’s events on Saturday, there was also an Ultimate Frisbee toss on Amherst common at 3:50 p.m., a “flash mob” at Mount Holyoke College, a bike parade at the UMass Haggis Mall and at Smith College, and a teach-in at Hampshire College called, “What We Need To Know About Climate Change: Local Perspectives on the Global Crisis.”

Hampshire college alumnus Ben Grosscup said, “I think 350 is helping to raise awareness of the nature of the crisis,” which is evident by the growing number of photos on the organizations’ website sent by supporters of 350 from all over the world.

For more information on 350, visit 350.org.

Christa Romano can be reached at [email protected]