On Friday Bill McKibbon, famed environmental writer and self-described luddite, built up to the crescendo of his speech about the climate crisis by name-dropping his new website: www.350.org. The number “350,” he explained, is basically the planetary equivalent of our 98.6 degree body temperature. “Scientists have told us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million–we’re currently at 387 ppm–we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth,” he urged.
His new site, 350.org, is McKibbon’s attempt to harness the croudsourcing activism of Meetup with the mass momentum of An Inconvenient Truth. Ultimately the goal is to get hundreds of local groups around the world to simultaneously stage rallies on October 24, 2009 to convey the urgency of the number of 350. All this, so when government leaders gather in Copenhagen in December 2009 to negotiate a new climate treaty, they will make regulations aggressive enough to reach that goal (note: McKibbon did acknowledge using the number “350” was a reductionist and sometimes arguable target, however he explained, global branding often requires the lowest common denominator).
To my surprise, McKibbon wasn’t the only unlikely influential at Greenbuild using technology to bring their life’s work to the masses in some Web 2.0 or open-sourcey kind of way. Seventy-nine-year-old, Pulitzer Prize winning biologist EO Wilson gave his own ambitious digital shout-outs: eol.org, an open-source online encyclopedia of every species; and The Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is in the process of scanning every page ever printed about every species (the final database is estimated to be 500 million pages; right now they’re at 8 million).
But the new Web project that sounded most intriguing is the brainchild of biomimicry’s Janine Benyus. Her new site, AskNature.org (partner of eol.org), is a resource where designers can look to nature to solve design challenges (i.e. how does nature self-clean? how do plants convert solar energy into chemical energy? how do butterflies scatter light?). “It’s eHarmony.com for biologists,” chuckled Benyus at Greenbuild’s closing event. “It’s a way for biologists to hook up with your [design] world, because we didn’t go to the same parties in college.”