Keynote speaker Bill McKibben.

There can be a visibly profound sense of commitment and a sense of shared purpose when people of like-minded intention have the opportunity to meet, as happened this past weekend on the Bard College campus in Annandale. These people were excited, motivated and happy. They networked incessantly.

Strategies for a New Economy Conference 2012, produced by the New Economics Institute (NEI), had a stated goal of addressing some pretty serious issues facing our nation and planet. It brought together a who’s who list of participants, speakers, and “extraordinary leaders from the emerging New Economy Movement.” Bob Massie, president and CEO of the NEI, characterized it modestly as having “all the makings of a watershed event.”

The mission? Well, that’s a little complicated. Massie’s welcoming statement talked of “a collective vision of a just and sustainable economy — one that creates fairness and prosperity within ecological limits.” Participants were encouraged to explore their collective wisdom, inform themselves of existing strategies, and actively seek to invent new solutions for the future.

The convening statement of the conference declares, “We are at a turning point in history. Rising temperatures are now recognized as a sign of a planet in crisis. Inequities between rich and poor, north and south, grow ever deeper. The global economy has failed in its promise to produce and deliver basic goods in an efficient manner for an expanding population, leaving increasing numbers in abject poverty.”

Keynote speaker Bill McKibben, a self-described “reluctant activist” from Vermont, says he founded the organization 350.org almost by accident while teaching at Middlebury College. He and a team of students brainstormed the Step It Up campaign, which organized rallies and modeled creative activism in 2007. The name 350.org was spawned from scientists’ estimate that 350 parts of carbon per million was the most our planet could sustain without serious repercussions.

That proved a “Eureka moment” for millions around the world. On Oct. 24, 2008 a global team coordinated by 350.org mobilized over 5,200 actions in 181 countries. Concerned citizens around the globe participated in widely demonstrations. CNN called the event “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

McKibben’s sense of urgency in getting his message out consumes most of his time now. “I’m a writer,” he says. But the writer has become an activist, traveling over 5,000 miles this past week alone to various conferences and speaking engagements. He delivers a sobering message: our planet is in serious trouble. Global warming isn’t something that is going to happen, but has already permanently altered our planet in ways which have some pretty scary repercussions. Many of us are only just beginning to understand the implications of this predicament. Some are still in abject denial.