I was sad to hear that 350.org will be closing its doors at their San Francisco office. As one of the clearest voices to emerge since the inception of the climate movement, 350.org brought hard science to the masses and succeeded in creating one of the most successful viral media campaigns in support of climate regulation — a nationwide photo opp on Oct. 24 in which hundreds of thousands of people from around the world called for a global target of 350 PPM* of atmospheric carbon.

With climate scientist Bill McKibben at the helm, “3-5-0” became the rallying cry for the entire NGO community who called on world leaders to dispense with the IPCC’s not-to-exceed target of 450 PPM, a target which dooms many developing nations to complete economic collapse and is some cases (for instance the Maldives) total annihilation by the end of the century.

Unfortunately any hard target (much less one so ambitious) was, as Naomi Klein said, “never on the table.” And despite the millions of voices who echoed the 350 cry during the Copenhagen protests, the dream of 350 now seems dashed. (The good news is the core team will be hunkering down to plan for a brand new campaign in 2010, and given the high caliber individuals involved, I’m sure it will take the climate movement to the next level.)

But let’s get back to the subject of these three magical numbers, 3-5-0.

About a year after the launch of McKibben’s 350.org, one local retailer in Minneapolis named Cinda Baxter saw an Oprah show which encouraged a moratorium on shopping to help the environment. She realized then she had to create a campaign that reframed the issue of consumerism entirely — it’s not shopping itself that’s killing the planet; it’s HOW people are shopping.

By spending your dollars on independent retailers, local farmers and local manufacturers, (instead of national or international chains) you can benefit the environment while helping build the economic base of your own local community.

In a March 2009 blog she named her campaign “3/50” which encapsulates her formula for local economic success — spend $50 a month on three different local retailers per month. In so doing (assuming half the employed population spends $150 per month) the U.S. could direct more than $125 billion in local revenue, generating 50 percent more employment and tax opportunities within local communities.

It took off like wildfire and has garnered a blitz of national media attention for the “other 350” campaign.

In looking at the epic failure of the climate advocacy movement which now feels something akin to an existentialist play (maybe this one stars a hero who pushes a dead elephant up a hill forever) I ask you this ...

Is 3/50 the new 350?

Does the only hope for moving the climate needle in favor of planetary survival lie in the hands of local shoppers?

For decades (since the publication of the book Small is Beautiful by economist E.F. Schumacher —highly recommended read!) a “Local First” movement has been afoot here in the U.S. spearheaded by the BALLE network. And for decades they have been putting forth the gospel of local economies — how they are good for the environment, enhance quality of life and create sustained economic prosperity (as opposed to the Wall Street Ponzi-scheme variety).

Now with a stalled climate movement and the recent success of the 3/50 local economies campaign, I wonder if the two movements are set to converge. Local economies have a lot going for them — they are inherently low(er) carbon and have broad appeal to people on both sides of the political spectrum. Most importantly, no charts, graphs or slideshows are required.

In a Sustainable Industries event this week, Arianna Huffington made a significant proclamation in regards to energy legislation: "Government is broken." 

If so, is the local economy movement the logical next step?

Follow Karl Burkart on Twitter @greendig or on Facebook /greendig.

Is 3/50 the new 350?
Will the local economy movement replace the 'climate movement'?