Cairo joins global grassroots on climate change

This weekend Cairo will host two candlelight vigils as part of a global effort to urge participants in the Copenhagen climate change summit to reach a substantive deal on how to limit global temperature increases.

The vigils are being planned by 350.org, an international organization committed to raising awareness about, and finding solutions to, global climate change. As part of 350.org’s latest initiative, supporters will hold candlelight vigils around the world, in what the organization hopes to be the "largest ever day of climate action."

The vigils in Cairo will be held on 12 December, occurring halfway through the Copenhagen summit, which opened on Monday and is scheduled to run until the 18th of this month. The events are organized by 25-year-old Egyptian Aiman Elsayed, who also facilitated the Day of Climate Action at the pyramids last October, another 350.org initiative.

Elsayed is committed to 350.org’s message and determined to do his part while encouraging others to do theirs. "We want to show people, especially here in Egypt, that this is a serious problem," says Elsayed. "We want them to understand that their daily actions have consequences, sometimes negative. We want them to understand the problem and how they can fix it." Elsayed’s commitment to fighting climate change takes place at a more local level, too. He recently organized a carpooling system for the 1500 employees at the telecommunications company at Smart Village, where he works, as well as a group of men and women who bike to work together.

The idea behind the worldwide vigils, which are planned for over 150 countries, is not only to raise awareness, but to pressure world leaders to take action and make difficult decisions. One of the many obstacles to halting climate change is the lack of a definitive treaty upon which world leaders can act. Environmentalists hope for something more effective than the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which the United States has yet to ratify. 350.org hopes the vigils, combined with its past efforts and those of its supporters, will influence attendees of the Copenhagen summit to come up with a decisive agreement by 18 December.

The American environmentalist Bill McKibben founded 350.org in 2007. Since then, the group has
organized and encouraged numerous events, including last October’s Day of Climate Action, in which 5200 events were held worldwide, including one at the Giza pyramids. The name of the organization comes from a 2007 study that concluded that in order to prevent catastrophic climate changes, the atmosphere would have to be regulated to at least 350 parts-per-million of CO2. The current CO2 level is approximately 387 ppm. Members of 350.org have spent the last two years relentlessly campaigning and raising awareness, resulting in a global network of supporters and participants.

If all goes according to plan, this weekend will be 350.org’s largest event to date. Yet while everyone is upbeat,s there are early indications that things might not go the way 350.org and its supporters hope. Prior to the Copenhagen summit’s opening ceremony, the Obama administration announced that there would be no legally binding treaty by the end of the summit. Shortly after, several world leaders followed suit, suggesting that the conference should instead be used to create a framework for reaching an agreement at some point in 2010.

The announcement came as a blow to a community already vulnerable after last week’s leak of an email by a leading climate scientist in which he claimed he had been publishing altered figures to hide the decline in global temperatures, an incident dubbed "Climategate" by the international media. As a result, the summit is unfolding under heavy scrutiny.

In the meantime, Climategate seems to have encouraged those who believe global warming is a myth, while at the same time energizing supporters of climate control, as was evident in the increase of protests, events, and activities in the build-up to the Copenhagen summit. Last week saw a "climate change march" in London, attended by 20,000 to 50,000 demonstrators, while the Copenhagen police force has constructed a network of steel cages in an abandoned beer factory as a temporary jail for protesters.

350.org continues to encourage its supporters, remaining optimistic in the face of indecisive leaders and gloating deniers. With more vigils planned by the hour, it’s clear that people all over the world are coming together in an effort to express their concern, regardless of how things are going in Copenhagen. "There are actions that world leaders can take, and that’s what [the Copenhagen summit] is for," says Elsayed. "And there are actions that we can take, and that’s what these vigils are all about."

The Cairo vigils will be held on Saturday, 12 December, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM at the Opera House, and El Sawy Cultural wheel in Zamalek. Attendees are encouraged to bring a candle.

Please note details are tentative. For more information visit www.350.org or www.avaaz.org or join the 350 Egypt group on Facebook.

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