There are lots of petitions flying around the Internet these days, but none quite so ambitious as that of Ranga B. Myneni. His petition has a single sentence that he hopes will be endorsed by a billion humans by the time Earth Day rolls around in 2014. Yeah, that's no typo: One Billion people. Here's what the petition says:
"Dear Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, We, the People of the Earth, request You to act judiciously and expeditiously to protect the Earth from anthropogenic climate change.
Respectfully, People of the Earth"
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When I first saw the link posted by a third party on the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Facebook page on Friday morning, I was skeptical. It sounded kind of cool, but kind of crazy too, so I started checking out Myneni's credentials. I found out that Myneni is no crank or fluffy-headed dreamer. On the contrary, he's a professor at Boston University, a respected expert on how vegetation is globally responding to climate change and one of the authors of the next global climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
I tracked down Myneni in Washington, D.C., on Friday where he was giving a talk to NASA researchers. I spoke to him by phone as he was waiting for a plane back to Boston at Reagan National Airport.
"I'm not speaking for (Boston University or the IPCC)," Myneni told me, over the roar of the airport PA system. "I'm speaking only for myself as an individual."
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Despite all the climate science and the scientific meetings and attempts to inform policy makers, he said, nothing substantive has been done to address climate change. And more scientists talking to scientists and politically hobbled policy makers isn't likely to change that.
"What we need are the people on the street," Myneni said. "Everybody else: (e.g.) school children and their grandmothers. Their voices must be heard. They must be part of the process."
But how? A simple, straightforward petition seemed like a good idea. So Myneni and a friend started putting together a single webpage to that end.
"It would be the largest petition ever," he said. And it would send a message to the policy makers that we are all in this together. "It would have some impact, I would think."
All the work behind the petition - hosting, archiving and securing data, etc. - is done voluntarily and no money is involved, he said. More people have stepped forward recently to translate the petition into other languages and Myneni expects that by the end of March there will be German, Chinese and some other languages represented.
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"I don't want money or sponsorship from anybody," he said. "I want to keep it clean and very simple."
That said, if the petition gets too unwieldy, he'd welcome non-monetary assistance from organizations like Facebook or Google. Keeping track of hundreds of millions of names is not for amateurs, after all. If everybody who signs the petition gets ten more people to sign, a billion is a real mathematical possibility, he said.
Needless to say, this could prove to be a very interesting petition to watch evolve over the next 13 months.
Image credit: NOAA