“There is now little doubt that the collective actions of people are affecting the earth’s climate. It has taken hundreds of years and billions of people to get us to this point. It will take hundreds of years and the cooperation of billions of people to reverse the process and to make the human presence on earth “climate neutral ” again. We have the power to do this; the power rests in the policies of governments and the actions of individual people.” Gregory S. Stone, “Ice Island”, New England Aquarium
Burning fossil fuels creates an invisible quilt around the planet. Think: parked car on a sunny day with all the windows rolled up. Carbon dioxide, a byproduct of the burn, is the quilt’s main ingredient. CO2 is atmospherically measured in parts per million. There were about 280ppm before the industrial revolution. There are 400ppm today. We need to go back to 350ppm to give future generations a crack at living in a relatively safe world.
Earthlings per capita annually contribute about 2800 pounds of CO2 to the planet. Americans per capita – tied for first place with the Saudi Arabians – annually contribute 44,000 pounds. To appreciate the challenge ahead you’ve got to first determine the carbon contribution of the simplest activity. Websites abound. Try http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
…not to the physics and chemistry of climate (it’s daunting), but to the process that crunches data and guides those scientists to forecast probability. Called peer review, the process is transparent, messy, and tested by thousands of competitive scientists. Ninety eight percent of them believe fossil fuels are dangerously warming the planet (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.full.pdf+html). Climate has widely varied over geologic time. It’s the pace of the warming that is frightening.
The enemy – other than CO2 – is lack of political will. Mexico, torn from within by drug wars, nevertheless has shown more leadership on climate change than the United States. The science is clear. There are enough fossil fuel alternatives to more than power the planet. Our challenge is creating a new grid to deliver it. Join 350.org Ask any candidate for political office – town moderator or the nation’s presidency – this question: “The overwhelming conclusion of scientists is that we are dangerously warming the planet. How will you lead?” The NASA graphic above has had about 300 hits on youtube; Justin Bieber’s new song has had almost 734,000,000 hits. We can make climate change part of the conversation.
For more thorough writing about global solutions to the climate change crisis, we highly recommend Ross Gelbspan’s article, “Moral Leadership in the Greenhouse”, published in Grist Magazine in April 2009: Link Here and Thomas Friedman’s insightful book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded.