Saturday, October 24, 2009

350 ppm

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached about 383 parts per million. Our atmosphere is actually mostly nitrogen (78%), with a bit of oxygen (21%) and argon (1%) and a few other trace elements thrown in. Carbon dioxide, the fourth most prevalent gas, is really a very small percentage of the whole when compared to the three major gases: only .04%. But it packs a punch.
When Arctic ice melted so dramatically in the summer of 2007, scientists realized that global warming was no longer a future threat but a very present crisis. Within months our leading climatologists—especially the NASA team led by James Hansen—were giving us a stark new reality check. Above 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, they wrote, the atmosphere would begin to heat too much for us to have a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

Bill McKibben, Yes! magazine
James Hansen warned President-Elect Obama that the current public policy approaches being taken were not working. In an interview in March in the Guardian, Hansen expressed heightened concern:
What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.

The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I'm not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time.
We most certainly are. Today around the world there are demonstrations and events centered on this number. has organized an International Day of Climate Action today, with updates from around the world—including Fairbanks, Alaska.

Alas, our Congressional delegation doesn't get it. Lisa Murkowski, for example, doesn't want the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon dioxide from the major emitters: power plants, manufacturing plants, and the like. Or at least not yet. The problem, of course, is that climate change is not waiting. It's happening NOW, and the economy (saving it is the reason that keeps getting brought up for stalling) is going to get wrecked along with everything else if Congress doesn't act soon. Like yesterday.

And, according to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, the public in the US doesn't really get it either. Up here in Alaska, where we are experiencing the changes first-hand (I mean, what happened to October?), we are so focused on the oil drip that we can't see around it to diversify our economy, reduce our emissions, and get the hell away from our dependence on the fossil fuels that are destroying us.

1 comment:

ifthisbeterror -- a Revolution of One said...

To get a vivid picture of the unfolding crisis, and its effects at each degree Celsius of mean global temperature rise from 1 to 6, read Mark Lynas _Six Degrees_ (National Geographic, 2008). I believe this book should be this week's assigned weekend reading for each and every local, state and national policy-maker and journalist.