BELFAST, Maine — Pouring rain didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 100 Belfast-area residents who, along with participants in at least 24 other Maine communities, joined a worldwide rally Saturday against carbon dioxide particles in the air we breathe.
The Belfast participants marched from three downtown locations to the Belfast Common, many of them toting bicycles, hand mixers, low-watt light bulbs or any other item that could reduce a person’s carbon footprint. One group, who trekked from Waterfall Arts, brought a huge drum, which reverberated through town and across the harbor long before they arrived.
Many of the activists carried signs bearing the number 350. That’s the maximum number of parts per million of carbon dioxide particles that can exist in a sustainable atmosphere, according to organizers of the event, who cite numerous scientists. Earth’s air now has about 378 parts per million of carbon dioxide.
The soaked Belfast event was one of thousands that took place in 160 countries, all of them urging world leaders to commit to a climate treaty. Such a treaty is scheduled to be completed by the United Nations in December, though organizers of the www.350.org campaign say it is “much too weak to get us back to safety.”
Participants in Saturday’s rally in Belfast admitted they face vastly powerful forces, from industries that would have to spend billions of dollars to reduce their carbon output to a belief among many people that climate change doesn’t exist, or that it’s not caused by the carbon humans produce. There was no wavering on that point among the rally’s participants, however.
“For us, not making an issue of it is irresponsible,” said Cathy Mink of Waldo, one of the participants who began Saturday’s event at the Belfast Unitarian Universalist Church. “Barack Obama, Congress and the corporations need to change their agendas. This is sort of like hitting them in the heads with a two-by-four.”
Fran Clemetson of Belfast, asked whether she thought Saturday’s event would register with the right people, said she hoped so.
“I think the message we’re sending today is going to be really loud,” she said. “If enough people get together and enough people speak out, then our world leaders will listen.”
In Camden, organizer Jean Matlack said more than 150 people attended. The slate of numerous speakers included Maine Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven. The event culminated in a letter-writing session that netted several dozen letters, which will be sent to Maine’s congressional delegation and President Obama.
“We were just one voice in a worldwide chorus,” said Matlack. “The whole thing had such a feeling of multiplied significance.”
To put faces with the message, activists in the Belfast rally formed themselves into the number 350. A Belfast Fire Department ladder truck hoisted a photographer above them, and the picture was shown on video screens in New York City’s Times Square along with similar photos from around the world. All the pictures will be given to world governments in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit in December.
The Rev. Mary Wellemeyer of Belfast, interim pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church, said that as the movement against carbon gains momentum, it will take its place with the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements in the history books.
“This is the moral cause of our generation,” said Wellemeyer, whose church has an active program to reduce its carbon footprint that includes special lighting and a ban on paper cups and plastic utensils. “If we reach the tipping point and the climate becomes difficult for humans to inhabit, we’ll have made a terrible error.”
According to photographs from communities on the 350.org Web site, participating Maine communities included Bangor, Dover-Foxcroft, Rockland, Bar Harbor, East Machias, Belfast, Camden, Fairfield, Augusta, Lewiston, Bath, Brunswick, Portland, Peaks Island, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Scarborough, Songo Pond, South Portland, Gorham, Falmouth, Farmington, Norway, Waterboro and Saco.