Bowdoin students will join student and community groups across the country on Saturday in asking Congress to commit to an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The event was conceived by and named after the Burlington, Vermont-based organization Step It Up. The group is comprised of six Middlebury College graduates working with environmental writer Bill McKibben, the scholar-in-residence in environmental studies at Middlebury.

According to the group's Web site, an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the middle of the century is "a solution commensurate to the scale of the problem [of global warming]."

The 80 percent reduction, "won't prevent global warming?it's already too late for that?but it may be enough to stave off the most catastrophic effects."

Step It Up rallies are being sponsored by many towns and cities, but the movement has especially caught on with college students. In an e-mail to the Orient, McKibben said that he has "been so impressed to watch the burgeoning student movement."

According to McKibben, college students "are crucial players, in part because they've had science more recently than most folks and so aren't intimidated by any of it...And since they'll have to live with the results longer than anyone, they're naturally most concerned."

According to Ruth Morrison '07, co-head of Polar Bears Against Climate Change, Bowdoin has a special interest in averting the effects of climate change: Its mascot could become endangered, or even extinct.

Morrison, who has partnered with environmental groups at Bowdoin to promote Step It Up, said that the polar bear issue is a good way to capture people's attention.

"How do you get the greatest number of people behind the climate change issue?" she asked. The polar bear's potential endangerment "is an issue that is relevant to Bowdoin."

Colin Beckman '07, the lead organizer for Step It Up at Bowdoin, agreed with Morrison. He said that the polar bear, as well as Maine icons such as fall foliage, blueberries, and maple syrup, were all rallying points for Bowdoin students concerned about climate change.

"When I come back in 40 years, what is this campus going to look like?" Beckman asked.

As part of the Step It Up rally, Beckman, Morrison, and other members of campus groups have planned a series of events, including a photograph of all participants in front of the polar bear statue.

The picture will be sent to the Step It Up organizers in Burlington, who will send a photo of every event to each member of Congress, along with their formal request for the carbon emissions reduction.

Other events planned for Saturday include a letter-writing campaign to state senators and representatives requesting the 80 percent reduction at both the state and national levels. A march from campus to Topsham and back will stop at the post office to mail the letters and petitions.

Organizers are also asking participants to consider signing the Green Pledge, an online pledge unique to Bowdoin in which one can select a personal or political commitment to combat climate change. The idea was inspired by Bowdoin's Green Graduation pledge, in which departing seniors pledge to serve the common good and consider the social and environmental aspects of jobs they take after college.

The film "An Inconvenient Truth" will also be showing on Friday and Saturday.

Bates College, Colby College, and the University of Maine at Farmington are among the many other colleges and universities organizing Step It Up rallies.

Jack Murphy, student organizer of Step It Up at Bates, said his event, which occurred last weekend because of vacation this week, was a success.

"Physical events like petitions and Step It Up make it easy to get involved," he said. Murphy added that the rally, which attracted over 100 people, "was beyond our expectations."

Murphy has also been involved with planning an intercollegiate Step It Up event in Augusta. Students at the Augusta rally will present Gov. John Baldacci, D-Maine, with a formal petition requesting a state-wide 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Katie Renwick, the student organizer of Step It Up at Colby, said that she hoped to "make Maine a leader in this."

"I hope that as more states sign on, Congress with get the picture," she said.

But how effective will Step It Up Day be? Beckman said that climate change movements have the potential for success because "we're legitimating Congress's authority by working with them."

"Climate change doesn't require civil rights-type movements," said Beckman. "It takes a less oppositional type of action."

Murphy said that Step It Up was just hoping for a commitment from Congress, and that there were many different options for working out how to implement the reduction.

Dharni Vasudevan, associate professor of chemistry and environmental studies, said that she was not convinced that the Step It Up campaign made clear the consequences of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions.

"An 80 percent reduction is 35 percent below the carbon emissions levels in 1960," she said. "Are we communicating what that level might mean, what the implications are, to the public?"

According to McKibben, an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions would mean, "large changes in how we do business?by mid-century we would need to have weaned ourselves from fossil fuels, which would mean weaning ourselves from everything from SUVs to food flown in fresh from every corner of the earth every day."

According to Vasudevan, petitions to Congress are meaningless without a public commitment to the type of drastic personal lifestyle change McKibben describes.

"People think if you tell Congress, the problem will be solved, but that means people need to change their lifestyles," she said.

Vasudevan encouraged those signing petitions to try to understand what an 80 percent reduction would entail for them personally.

According to McKibben, the public is finally ready to act on climate change.

"In this country it took Hurricane Katrina followed by Hurricane Gore" to make people aware of how serious an issue climate change is, McKibben said.

"Now everyone (almost) is educated," he said. "The question is if they're ready to act. We'll find out on Saturday."