Like most people, Bill (environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org), is not an activist by nature. There’s really not that many people whose greatest desire it to go out and fight the system. His theory of change was that he’ll write his book, people will read it and they’ll change. But that’s not how change happens. What is required is to make a little noise, be a little uncomfortable, and push other people to be a little uncomfortable. The moment has come where we have to take a real stance, because we’re reaching limits.
The biggest limit that we’re running into may be that we’re running out of atmosphere into which to put the waste products of our society, particularly the carbon dioxide that is the ubiquitous byproduct of burning fossil fuels. We burn coal, or oil, or gas, we get CO2 and the atmosphere is now filling up with it.
We know what the solutions for dealing with this trouble are; we know many of the technologies we need to get off fossil fuel and onto something else. The thing that is preventing us from doing it is the enormous political power wielded by those who have made and are making vast windfall profits off of fossil fuels.
One of the things that humanity is facing is the need to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint over the next 40 years. We’re no longer at the point of trying to stop global warming. It’s too late for that. We’re at the point of trying to keep it from becoming a complete and utter calamity.
The most important climatologist, Jim Hansen, had his team at NASA do a study to figure out how much carbon in the atmosphere was too much. The paper they published may be the most important scientific paper of the millennium to date, said we now know enough to know how much is too much. Any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.
That’s pretty strong language for scientists to use. Stronger still if you know that outside today, the atmosphere is 395 parts per million CO2. And rising at about 2 parts per million per year. Everything frozen on earth is melting. The great ice sheet of the arctic is reduced by more than half; the oceans are about 30% more acidic than they were 30 years ago because the chemistry of sea water changes as it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. And because warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere is about 5% wetter than it was 40 years ago. That’s an astonishingly large change.