This is a guest post by Leslie Berliant, blogger and editor at Celsias.com. Let's give her a big No Impact Man welcome with lots of comments. Do you agree with the scenarios she imagines? Would you be willing to deal with them? Or do you imagine happier possibilities?
"The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth."
Bill McKibben’s new 350 Campaign is designed to get people to champion a goal to reach a safer level of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Pressing lawmakers to do what needs to be done to get to this level of emissions is brilliant as a means to take the decidedly unpopular - legislating conservation, higher energy prices, carbon taxes and the like - and making it seem politically popular.
Right now, we are at 385 parts per million and that number is rising as China builds a new coal powered plant every week to ten days and new wealth and industry in India creates new levels of energy use. I am left wondering what it will take to reach the 350 goal and stay there and if people are willing to take the medicine, as it were, after they clamber for it.
What if it requires new nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams as the International Energy Agency suggests? Will environmentalists accept these solutions even though they create a host of other environmental problems? Will Americans give up their SUVs when even a self proclaimed treehugger thinks he needs one for a family of 3? Will the decidedly unpopular concept of frugality (reusing plastic baggies is what your grandma did, not what hipsters do!) suddenly become popular because it gets us to the magic number of 350?
What if it requires legislation that regulates our behavior, increases energy prices and restricts some of our freedom to use energy at will? Most people in the U.S. believe global population control is necessary but find China’s one child policy abhorrent. What about a one car policy? Limits on the amount of meat you can buy (18% of global greenhouse gases come from livestock production)? What about being restricted to only 5000 miles of travel by plane a year?
And what if all this isn’t enough?
I just wrote an article for Celsias about the role of reactive nitrogen in climate change. Use of nitrogen compounds, a major component in fertilizer, has increased 120% since 1970. And it may be more dangerous to planetary health than CO2.
The causes of climate change are clearer every day, but the solutions are complex. There are the devils we don’t account for, like rising food costs from corn-based biofuel production or the devastation of communities from carbon offset projects, and there are the inconveniences we don’t want to accept, like a congestion tax in New York City.
I support the 350 Campaign and the hope that throngs of people around the globe demand that lawmakers legislate us to that number or better. But I also hope that those same throngs realize that getting there may change their lives dramatically and that they accept those changes with grace and enthusiasm.