350 – collaborative creativity as political action

Last Saturday my daughter Shauna, my friend Vron and I joined a few hundred other people in the park by the London Eye on the South Bank, to stand in the form of a “5” for a photo. The same day people in Sydney made a “3” and people in Copenhagen an “O”, so that when the photos from each location were put together they made the number “350”. Those photos now form part of a moving, impressive slide show on the 350.org site, along with thousands of other images made by people around the world.

350’s mission is to build a global movement around climate change. (The 350 name refers to the parts of CO2 per million which it’s believed is a safe upper level in the atmosphere. We’re at 387 right now.) Saturday was a day of action to demonstrate public concern in the run up to the important Copenhagen talks in December. People were invited to stage an event “incorporating the number 350 at an iconic place in their community and then upload the photo to the 350 website”.

Over 19,000 pictures have been submitted so far – you can see them all on Flickr. Some are straightforward, some witty, some poignant. There are schoolchildren in the Phillipines and climbers in Vermont. There are men on horseback in Mongolia, and divers at the Great Barrier Reef. Some women in Australia display the 350 quilt they’ve sewn. There’s a crowd in Times Square, each with a placard. In Babylon, Iraq, one woman holds up a sign. According to the 350 website there were over 5,200 events in 181 countries.

I went along not knowing much about 350. The action was fun to be part of, but when I saw the slide show I felt something important, a sense of possibility. Together the pictures are powerful – offering hope that maybe we can make a difference on this huge, scary, complex, often divisive issue. This is by no means the first example of mass collaboration as political action – which has been written about by Clay Shirky, Charles Leadbeter and others – but this approach is particularly fitting for the issue of climate change – where the network can connect people across the globe, reveal each others very different circumstances in situ, and nurture a sense of joint purpose. Content is still arriving. Check out the 350 Blog for the latest developments.