Students, faculty, staff and community members rallied around issues of climate change last Saturday during "350," an event devoted to effecting environmental action and awareness.
The distinguished guest list included Maine Governor John Baldacci, former Governor Angus King, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Micahud as well as State Representative, marine veteran and Bowdoin alumnus Alex Cornell Du Houx '06.
Saturday's event was part of the International Day of Climate Action, and extended far beyond the Bowdoin campus.
The name of the campaign, "350," signifies the acceptable parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
An amount of carbon exceeding 350 ppm, according to scientists cited by the organization, can have a number of devastating effects on the earth's fragile ecosystems, including a significant rise in sea levels, glacial melting, and an increase in water-borne illnesses.
According to the organization's Web site, "people in 181 countries came together for the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history."
Bowdoin's event particularly stressed the consequences of climate change in matters of national security.
The College played host to members of Operation FREE, a coalition of veterans and national security organizations dedicated to informing Americans about the effects of global warming on the safety of the nation.
"We believe national security and climate change are related," said Cornell du Houx. "We send a billion dollars every single day overseas to foreign states who do not necessarily have the United States' interests in mind."
Andrew Campbell, a member of the Maine Army Guard who did a tour in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, agreed.
"We need to take America's energy future out of the hands of the Saudis, the Russians, and the Venezuelans," Campbell said. America's dependence on foreign oil, "undermines our own interests here at home."
Pingree added that "were it not for our dependance on foreign oil," we never would "have gotten involved in those conflicts [in Iraq and Afghanistan]"
According to Cornell Du Houx, global climate is a "threat multiplier." The ecological effects of climate change can cause drought, famine and "migration shifts, which create refugees," he said.
On June 26, the United States House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The Act seeks to establish a cap and trade system to limit the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted nationally.
Pingree said the passing of the bill was, "one of my favorite moments of my freshman year in Congress."
Though the American Clean Energy and Security Act was a milestone in the fight against climate change, the Senate has yet to pass it.
"We can take charge of our security. We can take charge of our energy future. We can take charge by setting the direction for other countries to follow around the world," said Michaud. "We have the power to begin change this year in the United States Congress." But, he said, "we must push the U.S. Senate in the right direction for clean American power."
The members of Operation FREE encouraged the audience to take political action to help the progress of the bill in the Senate.
Cornell Du Houx encouraged Bowdoin students to "call Senators Snowe and Collins and let them know that we need to protect America with this climate change legislation."
According to Cornell Du Houx, "everyone realizes that we need to take control of our energy future" and students especially have the ability "to organize and become involved in this issue."
"Student organizations are the people who will be leading America tomorrow," Campbell said. Students make a serious difference just by "voting and contacting senators."
"Senators really do listen to their constituents," Cambell added.
Baldacci emphasized the importance of developing sustainable wind turbines to create energy and jobs.
"The future is wind," he said.
As a former Bowdoin student, Cornell Du Huox recognized the significance of such an event.
"The fact that so many people showed up really shows how everyone is engaged and excited to push for climate change legislation," he said. "This event was one of the best we have had on our national bus tour."
Despite the rainy weather, between 150 and 200 people attended.
Though the event had originally been planned to take place on the quad, the crowd was still able to form the number "350" in Morrell Lounge.
President Barry Mills said he was pleased with the event.
"It was an impressive gathering of people from all walks of life in Maine," he said. "There are few issues that are prominent today that galvanize common purpose among such a broad range of folks."
Indeed, the issue of climate change weighs heavily on the conscience of many Bowdoin students. According to President Mills, "it is the issue that students talk to me most about."
"Climate change, drinking water, sustainability issues; our students really care, " he said.
Director of Coordinator for a Sustainable Bowdoin Keisha Payson, however, was somewhat disappointed in student participation.
"To be honest, I thought there would be more students here, but I'm really glad so many community members came out," she said. "I'd say we filled the room."
President Mills was particularly happy with the "genuine affection and support that our students and community showed the veterans." The joining of "veterans to this issue," he said, "is important as a national statement."
That spirit of cooperation, the common goal shared by environmentalists and national security organizations alike, set the tone for the day.
Pingree's closing remarks were imbued with that same sense of shared motivation.
"We want to do something about this. We want to take this into our own hands. We can do this together."
-Zoë Lescaze contributed to this report.