That’s the maximum number of CO2 parts per million that the planet can tolerate and still sustain life as we know it.
We are presently at 392.
I heard Bill Mckibben speak (for the third time) yesterday. I was reminded of why he was once such a hero of mine.
I remember when I read his first climate change article. Vermont. 1997. The Atlantic. Presaging Elizabeth Kolbert and Al Gore by a decade, he observed that something serious was happening to our planet, that if we didn’t act soon to curtail carbon emissions we would soon pass the tipping point.
His current message: we’re too late.
In the last few decades the global temperature has risen by one degree. 2010 was the hottest year on record. Last year we experienced cataclysmic drought in Russia leading to massive crop failure. Last year grain prices spiked 70%. Similarly Australian agricultural production has been decimated by severe drought and flooding. As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture. Dry places are becoming drier. Wet places face super storms.
All that is the consequence of one degree. We have enough carbon front loaded into the system that in the coming decades we will face another degree increase. Nothing we do can stop this. The consequences won’t be pretty.
If we don’t stop mining, pumping, and burning, the atmosphere will increase a third degree. That’s when things, as far as homo sapien civilization is concerned, will probably come to an end.
I won’t live to experience it. My daughter will. This I know.
What can I do now to help her?
1. Push back to 350. That means I have to stop adding carbon to the system. The effects of this action made today, though, won’t be felt for another 25 or 50 or 100 years. It’s a longterm play, and a small hedge at that.
2. Push for political action . Five weeks ago our congress passed a resolution denying the existence of global warming. The current administration may soon approve large infrastructure development to support the mining of tar sands in Canada. McKibben calls now for mass action and civil disobedience. Especially by older people. Without even thinking we and our parents created this damn mess.
3. Community. Courage. Connection. These are from my friend Amy Levek. To that I would add compassion.
We’ve come to rely on very complex technical systems. If those fail us, what will sustain us? Human relations. Along with the courage to act. And the courage to face that which we fear most. And connection to a single place. If we feel that connection, if we realize that the place is us, then we won’t violate it. We can’t. Lastly compassion, the opening of the heart. We all will suffer. Some more than others. We all will need it.