I’ve just listened to the Wisdom Radio interviews of Jim Garrison with Bill McKibben, (author of Deep Economy) and Lester Brown (author of Plan B 3.0).

Both authors are talking about a decisive metric that has been scientifically confirmed (by IPCC and others) that creates a super-ordinate goal that cities need to subscribe to. It is the upper limit of carbon dioxide (Greenhouse Gas GHG) that life conditions on earth can tolerate before synergistic chains of events, will precipitate drastic global climate change . The magic number is 350 parts per million. McKibben has founded 350.org as a website and activist movement to influence the world to take immediate action in weaning ourselves off carbon over-production. The target date for global convergence on committing to the 350 as an immediately actionable goal is October 24, 2009 — a scant 6 months from now.

Lester Brown lists the  reduction of CO2 emissions by 80% by 2020 as one of four urgently needed priorities to bring some balance to earth systems. The other three are stabilizing world population to 8 billion or less; eradicating poverty; and restoring natural systems.

What role do cities have to play in achieving these goals? They may hold the greatest opportunity for rapid behaviour change of any of our human systems. Why? Because close to 60% of the world’s population live in cities. The potential of cities to focus collective intelligence as well as indiviudal intelligences on broaching these problems is enormous. Cities need to bring their capacities to coalesce authority, power and influence from all the sectors into concentrated arenas of decision making and commitment to action.

Brown cites 3 modes of social change:

1.      Pearl Harbor-like – where response is immediate because of sudden attack.

2.      Berlin Wall-like – where resistance to punitive authorities engenders revolution – but peaceful revolution

3.      Sandwich – where the grass roots response simultaneously rises as leadership from the top mobilizes – this appears to be where the Obama era is heading now.

It is not accidental that Brown has used cities to identify his modes of social change – because cities are able to respond in all three ways. And the time has come for us to mobilize resources in all these modes.

City mayors, managers, business leaders, developers and academics need to organize themselves – to use the scientific analysis we have to focus on the top priorities with a Pearl Harbor galvanization. This group can change the economy from one defined by consumer whim to one defined by the 350 imperative.

This imperative needs the Sandwich approach that put a man on the moon in 10 years – only this time we need to keep man alive on the earth in the same span of time. All levels of government need to support citizens in doing their part – just as in WWII citizens lived on ration cards, manufacturers ceased building cars and energy was carefully controlled. This time round we are fighting for the principles of Life (not just the quality of life) and we know we can live through just as drastic short term actions  to achieve the value of long term Life.

For the second, supporting rung of priorities we need activists to marshall the agencies, civil society, businesses and citizens. The Berlin Wall approach to all the senseless, wasteful, redundant ways we now live in cities might be as simple as the proposals suggested by Tom Brocaw in reducing the ridiculous numbers of local governments to the ridiculous waste of urban blight and sprawl (see the article on shrinking Flint Michigan).

And cities need to use their contexting intelligences so that the best global ideas are locally adapted. We do have the intelligence not to assume that one size (of 350 change) will fit all. Rather we need to take into consideration the different ecologies, climates, lifecycles, cultures and systems that exist in cities. In this we can work together, so cities of the coastlines, cities of the mountains and cities of the deserts (and all 17 Earth geographies) can learn from one another. We will need all the integral maps and integral vital signs monitors we can bring to bear for each location to share what it is learning with other locations.

Where to start? This is an Earth Day where each of us needs to commit to getting personal about saving the Earth – so that we have a legacy to leave our species that reverses the conditions we have created that might preclude having a species to leave a legacy to. Between now and October 24, we need to get as educated and committed as we ever have in our lifetimes, to valuing the Earth so much we are prepared to change our behaviour to save her (and thus ourselves). We must live the Master Intelligence – take care of ourselves, take care of each other, take care of this Earth place.