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.


Morning words from directors Tom Shadyac and Roko Belic:

A biological system that takes more than it needs is dead. By definition it is deadness. It is cancer.

What is this thing that we have created? We relentlessly mine the earth for everything we can. Taking taking taking. Mine, mine, mine. Then we dam the rivers, not to harness, but to steal the life energy of the water. Dam the river. Kill the water.

This is what we’ve become. Mine, mine, mine. Damn, damn, damn.

Time to stop.

Zero is where the fun starts. Everything else is too much counting.


Picks from this afternoon’s screenings:

Barber of Birmingham. Simple men and women standing up. And being beaten down. And standing up again. And crossing that bridge on Bloody Sunday on the march to
Montgomery. And a delicious reminder of the euphoria of that 2008 election.

A Time Has Come. Six Greenpeace activists scale the interior of a coal power plant smokestack and effectively shut it down in the belief that the emission of CO2 is a crime against the planet. A story which, in this town and at this time, can only be received in the context of Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) who singlehandedly halted oil and gas development in parts of Utah by making fraudulent bids in a public auction. He now faces 10 years of jail time. And he has said publicly that he is happier and more at peace than he has ever been in his entire life.

What action would we give our lives for to make the world a better place?

The Bowl and the Spoon

This year they’ve declared Mountain Film, a zero waste festival. That means I’m carrying a small canvas bag containing a cup, a plate, and a utensil. The initiative came directly from the screening of Bag It last year. Since then the presence of any single use disposable in my life has come to feel like a mortal rather than a venal sin.

I’m grateful to the festival for upping the ante. We’re all grownups, after all. They don’t need to give us plastic chum. They can ask us to bring our own plates and we should be able to figure it out. Stores can stop giving out bags and we’ll get it.

But their policy summons even greater questions and action. Candidate rules to live by:

1. Don’t buy anything. Ever again. In my life. Why should I? I live at the top of the food chain in the richest country in the world in the twenty-first century. What possibly could I need or want?

2. Don’t buy food unless I’m hungry. Truly hungry. Am I eating because I need to or because I want to? And if I want it, do I really want it?

3. Try to see the whole life of the food. Where did it come into being? How was it harvested? How did it come to me? Eat only those plants and creatures that I know.

4. Substitute human energy for fossil energy. This is a big one. Where can we use our hands and bodies and not rely on the grid?

5. When it gets dark let it be dark. Darkness is a gift from the universe. Why mask it with light? What a colossal waste.

6. Be where I am. Why talk with someone far away rather than the person right next to me? And why look in a device rather than the vista ahead? How much energy could we save if we weren’t trying so hard to be somewhere else?

7. Think twice before flipping a switch. Any switch. Every switch incrementally warms the world.

Anything anybody would care to add?