350 parts per million is a story about a shy 16-year-old science geek, Cora Mariposa, who just wants to fit in with the crowd. When she uses her academic prowess to stand up to fossil-fueled power, she becomes the unwitting leader of a youth climate movement. Uncomfortable with the spotlight, she falters, but ultimately finds her life’s purpose.

Save the date! A staged reading will be presented at the Gateway Theater in San Francisco on May 11, 2024. 

Plot Summary (spoiler alert!)

Prologue

"Tell me a story" begs a child of his grandmother. It is 2075, and ABUELA obliges by telling her NIETO his favorite story: the story of her life as a teenage girl and of how the butterflies disappeared. 

Act I

A contemporary tale begins with sixteen-year-old, hardworking, bilingual CORA MARIPOSA describes her life as a “milkshake engineer” making minimum wage at a country club while her one-percenter peers -- MCKENZIE, COOPER, QUINN, BROOKLYN, BAILEY -- get pampered. The characters introduce themselves and the social dynamics of their society in an opening song and dance number (“Perfect Day”). A science geek with a passion for climate science and the uncomplicated simplicity of the scientific method, CORA is driven by a mission to save vulnerable people from extreme weather, as her mother was killed in a heat wave working in the fields when she was small. In many ways a normal teenager with a crush on the ever-popular COOPER GRAY, she has a deep desire to fit in. CORA’s best friends, JOJO BUTLER, an artist, and BODHI SINGH, an ecology buff, encourage CORA to follow her dreams and worry less about fitting in. CORA interacts with COOPER for the first time, getting to know him, and reveals her hopes and dreams for her future (“Watch Out, World”).

At school, JOJO tells CORA about her planned art installation, an act of civil disobedience likely to get her in trouble. CORA discourages JOJO from getting in trouble, and learns that JOJO believes that all art is political. JOJO draws a parallel to science. CORA initially disagrees, and JOJO challenges her, if she’s in doubt, to “follow the money”. This is Lesson 1.

The popular kids at school, also members of the country club, are in constant search of popularity, at school and on social media, and won’t accept misfits into their inner circle. The leaders and followers of the high school social scene describe their feelings in a song and dance number (“High School Royalty”). BODHI describes his feelings as an outsider who is satisfied with his own passion for ecology and his close group of friends, reveals his love for CORA, and describes the wonder of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all things in an intimate ballad (“Butterfly Effect”).

CORA’s science teacher, MR. ANTIPODES, encourages her to explore the political side of climate science, in particular recommending that she compares fossil fuel companies’ public statements with what the research truly shows – to “do the math”. This is Lesson 2. CORA dives in, and is surprised to learn that these companies have known for half a century that burning fossil fuels would result in climate warming and catastrophic consequences for humankind and nature, yet they lied to the public about their knowledge. She shares her revelations with JOJO and BODHI, who become interested in the project, helping CORA do more research. Together they do the math, and realize that simple arithmetic reveals many environmental and social inequities, casts blame on nations that prosper at the expense of others, and characterizes the enormous challenge facing this generation because of choices made by generations past (“Arithmetic Meaning”). Satisfied with their findings, but still searching for what to do about these revelations, Cora resolves to find out what Lesson 3 is.

During a climate lecture sponsored by fossil fuel giant PetroCom, Incorporated, where COOPER’s father, MR. JOHN GRAY, works as the company’s Chief Financial Officer, CORA works as catering staff. The speaker, EDRIC BANE, lectures about his philosophy that fossil fuels have saved mankind from endless suffering (“Crumbling Down”), where it is revealed that his career has been heavily funded by PetroCom. CORA is caught on video critiquing EDRIC while walking by a hot mic, which leads to a heated exchange and passionate, well-informed critique by CORA (“How Dare You, Mister”). She’s reprimanded for insubordination, and worries that both she and her father, MR. ANDRES MARIPOSA, who works at the Country Club as a janitor, will lose their jobs.

Back home, MR. MARIPOSA reminds his daughter about her late mother, and encourages her to follow her dreams despite what others may say about her (“For Your Mother”). CORA learns she’s a social media star after a video of the exchange with the climate philosopher goes viral. She’s uncomfortable with the leadership role, and resolves to expose that she’s an imposter, not a leader. Before she can do so, COOPER contacts her, praising her bravery and asking her on a date. She‘s ecstatic. Her friends warn of his dubious intentions, but she brushes them off. CORA, COOPER, and BODHI describe their complicated, uneven crushes (“Scalene Love Triangle”).

The popular kids begin to embrace CORA because of her new-found social media status and her relationship with COOPER. She adopts some of the behaviors of the Royals, including using her social media status to help McKenzie advance an agenda of fake, shiny environmental sustainability (“Strawmageddon”). MR. GRAY and EDRIC BANE resolve to eliminate Cora’s influence on their business model and tanking stock price by virtue signaling, greenwashing, and obscuring the math (“Reputation Management”).

BODHI and JOJO confront CORA, who is defensive. They tell her she is using her social media status for the wrong reasons, and is amplifying MCKENZIE’s Strawmageddon campaign with no benefit to marine mammals and all benefit to their personal popularity. CORA tries to satisfy their concerns, but refuses to stop being friends with the Royals. Her longtime friends are skeptical.

Questioning her own moral compass, CORA reinvests in her online activism, whether or not it undermines MCKENZIE’s “environmentalism”. In a passionate disclosure to her social media followers, she starts a global youth climate movement overnight (“Unless”).

Act II

In a false, deceptive account, MCKENZIE tells JOJO and BODHI that CORA doesn’t have time for them anymore, and they’re hurt and angry. They call CORA and tell her they’re done being her friend.

MS. DUVALL exposes her xenophobia and resolves to fire CORA no matter what (“She’s Got it Comin;”). BROOKLYN overhears her mom talking about firing CORA, and begins to hatch a plan. MCKENZIE and QUINN make fun of MR. MARIPOSA and CORA fails to stand up for him in front of the Royals.

CORA runs into MR. GRAY at the Club and apologizes for the personal attack, and offers to help him with his company’s transition to a carbon-neutral business. MR. GRAY laughs and shrugs her off. She accuses him of being a liar and a cheat. He retorts with “We don’t disobey the rules, honey. We follow them. Well, most of the time.” CORA learns Lesson 3 – Change the Rules. But she still must figure out which rules to change, and how.

COOPER accidentally lets on that he’s been lying to CORA the whole time – just using her for her social media status. CORA breaks up with him. JOJO and BODHI disclose that they’re upset with CORA, and they end their friendship with her for her selfishness. CORA learns that MR. MARIPOSA has been hospitalized for a heart attack.

CORA rushes to the hospital to be with her father who is recovering from surgery. There she tells him how much she loves him, and that if he needs to go be with Mama, he can; she will understand. She will miss him terribly, but she will be strong (“For Your Mother Reprise”).

In the hospital room, CORA is sad about her father’s condition, depressed at being abandoned and deceived by COOPER and MCKENZIE, and terrified that she has lost her only true friends, just when she needs their love and support most.

Meanwhile, social media kids around the world have lost their leader. In a dramatic thunder and lightning storm, they expose their personal experiences with crippling effects of the climate crisis, demonstrating that their dreams for a bright future have been shattered by climate anxiety (“Now or Never”).

MR. MARIPOSA makes a recovery. CORA takes care of him at home, but he encourages her to return to her studies. CORA bumps into JOJO and BODHI, and makes a true apology, vowing to never be fake again. They forgive her, and she reveals that she’s learned Lesson 3: Change the Rules. They help her with research on which rules to change and discover that we need to replace GDP as a national measure of wellbeing with the Genuine Progress Indicator - GPI, and we need to implement a carbon tax. CORA posts this message to her millions of social media followers.

The next day BODHI arrives at CORA’s door to help out with her still-recovering father, who BODHI has always been close with, and to console CORA about her breakup with COOPER, and revealing his love for CORA (“Scalene Love Reprise”). CORA appreciates his love and care, but tells him that she’s learned from the “Cooper incident” that boyfriends can be an enormous distraction, and she wants to stay focused on implementing Lesson 3. She asks for his patience. He agrees.

BROOKLYN, with BAILEY at her side, hires an employment lawyer, tells them about her mom’s racism, who secures Cora’s and Mr. Mariposa’s jobs. We learn that both girls are highly intelligent and thoughtful despite their loyalty to MCKENZIE. BROOKLYN realizes she is likely sacrificing her trust fund, but she’s inspired to become a civil rights attorney and support herself. The two discuss their affinity for CORA and their exhaustion with keeping up with MCKENZIE. They decide to get real and dump MCKENZIE, even if it means social suicide.

CORA sends her PetroCom research to a high-profile journalist who publishes an expose. PetroCom, and specifically MR. GRAY and EDRIC BANE, are accused of fraud.

CORA is invited to speak at the White House. There, CORA delivers a speech about forgiveness, passion, collaboration, and hope for the future (“Unless Reprise”).

Epilogue

Flashing forward to 2075, ABUELA ends her story: "and they all lived happily ever after". But NIETO knows better. "That's not what happened" he says. "Why, Abuela?" "Maybe it's human nature, she says." ABUELA and NIETO prepare to leave the house to check their traps to see about their next meal. They adorn their faces with gas masks and pull up their hazmat suits in defense of their fragile bodies against the reality of their post-apocalyptic circumstances. As ABUELA departs, CORA shouts "Wait! It doesn't have to be like this. They still have time, don't they?" "They do, but not much" ABUELA answers. CORA appeals to the audience, "This is the moment. Your moment. You decide, here and now, how this ends." ABUELA asks "What will you choose?"