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400 ppm and Counting

May 26, 2013
The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it. —Bill McKibben

The CO2 level in our atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm), higher than at any time in the past 3 million years. The annual rate of increase has also accelerated over the past 55 years from about 1.55 ppm to more than 2.5 ppm.

NASA recently polled ten climate scientists on their reaction to this landmark number, and it is revealing how mild their reactions seem. No one is standing on a chair, screaming hysterically for change in our energy policies. This speaks to the success the radical right has had in pooh-poohing climate change. The scientists who know best the awful future we are facing are keenly sensitive to appearing to be alarmist, though we are now past the time when alarm bells should have reached deafening levels around the globe.

Obama will soon approve or disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to other pipelines already under construction in the U.S. that would deliver it to refineries in Texas. Though in and of itself the pipeline will not increase the CO2 levels spewing into the atmosphere—if this pipeline is not approved, Alberta will find a way to ship their product to the orient— it isn’t going to help, either.

We need an energy initiative at least as ambitious as our race to the moon in the 1960s, and much more vital to all our interests. Here is one idea: Let’s cut our use of fossil fuels by 4% every year for the next 25 years. Cut our imports and cut our domestic production and utilization. In a quarter of a century, we can get to the point where we contribute nothing to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, at least insofar as they are caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Of course, along the way, we are going to have to maximize conservation, development of renewables, and research and development aimed at keeping the lights on and the traffic moving after 2038. Is there anyone, knowing of our wealth and our resources, who can seriously doubt we could succeed?

On the other hand, knowing what we know about the way the world runs in 2013, is there anyone who can seriously believe we will embark upon anything like this in the foreseeable future? More to be expected is that we will continue our inexorable march to the Land of No Return.
tags: Environment | Oil and Gasoline | Energy

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