Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

The only thing that matters

1. Our current emissions path leads inevitably to the end of modern civilization as those of us lucky enough to live in rich/OECD countries know it.[1]

2. We are so close to the cliff’s edge that humanity must find a way to make huge and rapid cuts in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, beginning as soon as is physically possible. [2]

3. The urgency behind item 1 and the difficulty of achieving item 2 are compounded by the long atmospheric lifetime of CO2, infrastructure lock-in, and a dramatically increased environmental impact caused by the combination of a population set to exceed 9 billion by 2050 plus shifting consumption habits.

4. We do not have the luxury of waiting for just top-down or just bottom-up efforts to effect the needed emissions reductions; this is a planetary all-hands-on-deck situation that requires significant contributions from international agreements, national and local governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and individuals.

5. Governments, corporations, and other large concentrations of power that have a major influence on our emissions do not perceive a sufficient incentive for them to take action. The reasons for this misperception include a mix of ignorance, myopia, and greed that varies with the entity in question.

6. We will avoid calamity of both obvious and non-obvious forms[3] only if those of us who know what’s going on provide the proper political and economic incentives to the people commanding these concentrations of power.

7. We are opposed in this task by the immense financial resources of the fossil fuel and associated corporations, and broken political systems sheltering and enriching far too many corrupt politicians. Therefore we must be much better organized and much more savvy in our efforts than we have been to date.

8. We must re-invent environmentalism, cast it in a form where we’re willing to work every bit as hard and make the same personal and emotional sacrifices that the fossil fuel companies do in fighting to sustain their immense profits. We can no longer be ruled by our tendencies to indulge in petty in-fighting, try to out-emote each other, and shun math and science. We have to be not just willing, but eager, to do the unpleasant chores needed to achieve victory. We have to become non-violent, unpaid, relentless mercenaries all working together to preserve the climate that fostered the rise of human civilization.[4]

9. What are you doing, right this very moment and in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, to help move us in a new direction, toward a vastly more effective environmentalism, one that can literally save millions, perhaps billions of lives in the coming decades?


[1] Regular readers of this and similar sites know the drill, and have heard it from me seemingly couhntless times: The primary vector of climate change’s impacts on human beings will be water. Rising sea level due to melting glaciers, thermal expansion, and groundwater pumping; a disappearing Arctic ice cap that disrupts weather patterns; droughts; floods. The effect these will have on food production will, if unchecked, be devastating.

[2] All the most solidly science-based prescriptions of how much we have to cut emissions (or in an alternative formulation, how much of our emissions allowance remains) say we have very little time to get started, and even then the cuts will have to be swift and deep. This is at a time when global CO2 emissions are still rising, hitting an all-time record in 2012.

[3] Is anyone reading this naive enough to think that the impacts of climate change will be “limited” to floods, droughts, food shortages, and enhanced weather events? Unless we get off our current path, we’re headed for failed states in the “poor” countries and very likely eco-totalitarianism in the “rich” countries. If you think that sounds far fetched, consider what people, whether individuals, local communities, or entire countries, will do when faced with an existential threat. Be continuing to pass the climate change problem to future heads of state, CEOs, and other decision makers, we are only increasing the probability that we’ll wind up in the situation people from all parts of the political spectrum want to avoid above all else: stifling governmental control over nearly aspect of our lives in a desperate attempt to radically reduce our CO2 emissions. This will be the ultimate form of our descent into the Metricene, when we’ll be living “measured lives on a managed planet”, as I’ve been pointing out here for years.

[4] I am horrified by the number of times I’ve been able to horrify environmentalists and people who are “concerned about global warming” simply by telling them that CO2 does not simply rain out of the atmosphere in a conveniently short time frame like smog or soot; one of my most effective tools is to tell them “Love is fleeting, but CO2 is forever”, and then explaining what that means. But even if we were all up to speed regarding the basic science and our circumstances, the fundamental feeds and speeds of this mess, that would be necessary but nowhere sufficient to enable the change we must make in ourselves before we can change the world.

I am stunned by the number of hard-core environmentalists I talk with who think reading and commenting on blogs and e-mailing the occasional snippet to their borderline psychotic brother-in-law somehow constitutes doing something. It doesn’t. That’s nothing more than a hobby, an indulgence in concern porn that consumes your very precious time and emotional state and produces precisely zero positive results.

I am convinced that the fossil fuel companies are deliriously happy about the blindingly ineffective way we environmentalists behave. These companies don’t have to spend a cent of their money or a nanosecond of their time encouraging us to snipe endlessly at each other and find ever more creative ways to do anything and everything but take the most obvious and effective steps, namely leveraging our numbers to apply political and economic pressure to reduce the carbon intensity of society.

And as for our collective math- and science-phobia, I am depressed nearly beyond words by the innumeracy and science illiteracy I see among people who are reputedly on our side, coupled with not just their reluctance but their flat-out refusal to see that as a problem worth trying to remedy. This is why I’ve been saying for some time that 350.org is the fossil fuel companies’ worst nightmare, a grass roots organization that’s gone from a quaint bit of Vermont idealism to a large and very quickly growing activist organization. And if you haven’t seen 350.org’s video, Do the Math, here it is:



Comments are closed.