updated 4/14/2007 9:08:39 AM ET 2007-04-14T13:08:39

A group of Middlebury College students looking to draw attention to global warming have sparked a national day of action beyond their wildest expectations: 1,350 actions planned Saturday across all 50 states.

Participants in Step It Up 2007 will be skiing down a disappearing glacier in Wyoming and diving to a coral reef off the Florida Keys. In Vershire, Vt., they’ll be eating pancakes to highlight concerns about how climate change could affect maple syrup production.

In New York City, blue-clad protesters will line up to mark where rising sea levels could move the coastline. San Franciscans will load up their low-emissions vehicles with stuffed polar bears for a trip to a local Hummer dealership, to illustrate worries that warmer temperatures could wipe out the species’ habitat.

“We see this to be the most pressing issue of our time, and our generation,” said Will Bates, 23, one of six former Middlebury students who helped organize the event with author Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at the school.

“We care about the impact it’ll have on our lives and on the lives of people all over the world,” Bates said. “We see it as a moral issue, and we see the need to take urgent action. It’s not something that can wait years or decades.”

Watershed moment
Step It Up is aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. It is the outgrowth of a Nov. 4 event in which more than 500 people hiked up mountains, handed out leaflets and held other actions in 30 locations around Vermont, each branded with a “Vote to Stop Global Warming” banner.

Working from a two-room storefront in Burlington and using word of mouth, blogs, e-mail messages and other appeals, organizers have drawn a huge response to the April day of action, thanks in part to help from organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Since we had no money and no organization, we thought we might organize 100 (events) by April 14,” said McKibben. “Instead, it’s taken off like a shot.”

McKibben, whose 1989 book “The End of Nature,” was among the first to highlight the problem of global warming, says the event marks a watershed moment in the push to act.

“It makes me unbelievably hopeful,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview from New York, where he was promoting the event. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I wrote the first book on all this in 1989. Most of that time, not much has been happening. I’ve been telling myself ‘The moment will come, and when it does, we have to take advantage.”’

Organizers ruled out a march on Washington early on, given the irony of having people travel across the country, burning fossil fuels, to protest the man-made rise in greenhouse gases, McKibben said.

“We wanted people to do it close to home, and we figured (U.S.) senators and representatives would pay more attention to it that way, anyway,” McKibben said.

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