The problem: 350.
One great solution: 350.org.
350. I should write it 350 times. We should all write it 350 times. Everyone on the earth should get out a pen, write down the number 350, and send it to their head of state. 350 times.
Now let me explain.
For the next two or three years, the nations of the world are supposed to be negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Accord, the current international treaty on reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In December 2009, heads of state will converge in Copenhagen to sign a new treaty that would forge a new international agreement on how we, as a planet, can limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a level that would keep us safe from global warming's worst effects.
What is that level? How much carbon dioxide can our planet safely withstand?
350. As in parts per million (ppm).
The United States' most senior climate scientist James Hansen and eight other senior climate scientists have recently deduced, by studying evidence from previous climate swings in our planet's history, that we must reduce carbon dioxide to 350 ppm or below to avoid rises in sea level, severe changes in weather, droughts, lost of coastal habitat, plagues of tropical diseases, food shortages and on and on.
"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted," Hansen and his colleagues write, "paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
According to Hansen and his colleagues:
A practical global strategy almost surely requires a rising global price on CO2 emissions and phase-out of coal use except for cases where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. The carbon price should eliminate use of unconventional fossil fuels, unless, as is unlikely, the CO2 can be captured.
A reward system for improved agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon could remove the current CO2 overshoot. With simultaneous policies to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, it appears still feasible to avert catastrophic climate change. Present policies, with continued construction of coal-fired power plants without CO2 capture, suggest that decision-makers do not appreciate the gravity of the situation. We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects.
The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.
The challenge is not scientific as much as political. Think about it. No electricity powered by coal. To institute these kind of policies, to achieve this goal on a worldwide level, to get the heads of state to put their names to 350 in Copenhagen in December, 2009 is going to take massive international political will.
The entire people of the world--including the Americans, the Indians, and the Chinese--will have to agree to the potential lifestyle change that working towards 350 may require.
A few of us have just launched a new [international] campaign, 350.org. Its only goal is to spread this number around the world in the next 18 months, via art and music and ruckuses of all kinds, in the hope that it will push those post-Kyoto negotiations in the direction of reality.
After all, those talks are our last chance; you just can't do this one light bulb at a time.
So tell everyone about the problem: 350.
And tell them, too, about 350.org.
Photo from The Day After Tomorrow, courtesy IMDB.com. I know it's not a realistic scenario but you gotta love a dramatic picture once in a while.