Are you watching the scores? I’m not talking about the West Virginia vs Texas game. I’m talking about atmospheric CO2. The numbers are frightening. CO2 has once again hit the highest level on record, and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the rate of increase is accelerating.
According to the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we passed the 400 ppm threshold in 2016. That was big news. 400 ppm was considered by many scientists to be the “tipping point,” the point at which catastrophic change became inevitable. But it’s gotten worse: in October 2018, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured CO2 at 409 ppm– and rising.
Let’s put that in perspective. According to Yale University, atmospheric CO2 was 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution (1760). When direct measurements started at Mauna Loa in 1958, that had risen to 316 ppm, an average increase of 0.2 ppm per year. By 1980, CO2 had risen to 340 ppm, an average increase of 1.1 ppm per year. The 400 ppm level of 2016 represents an average increase of 1.7 ppm per year. See the pattern there? Average CO2 figures aren’t available yet for 2018 because the year isn’t over, but the unusually-high reading of 409 ppm is an increase of 4.5 ppm over the past two years.
What does it mean? In the interest of fairness, I’m going to refer to an article in Forbes by Earl J. Ritchie, a University of Houston Energy Fellow and former energy company executive who is “skeptical” about the human contribution to climate change. He argues that we don’t know for sure that 400 ppm was a tipping point, meaning a point of no return– but he does insist that we have reached a point where the world is going to change in very difficult ways.
“Regardless of whether we have passed the tipping point, continued warming, rainfall pattern changes, significant sea level rise and continued northward and vertical migration of plant and animal species in the Northern Hemisphere seem certain. We are looking at a changed world and must adapt to it.”
As I said, Ritchie is a skeptic. Yet even he sees the gravity of this situation:
“One should not view the possibility that we have passed a significant tipping point as a reason for inaction. Although I remain somewhat skeptical of the degree of human contribution to climate change, it is prudent to take reasonable actions that may reduce the problem. In addition, there are multiple possible tipping points with different thresholds. Exceeding one does not mean you cannot avoid another.”
97% of scientists agree that human activity contributes to climate change. Every effort to debunk this statistic has failed. You may disagree with them, but what if they’re right?
Already, millions of acres of ponderosa pine stand dead in the American Southwest, victims of the bark beetle, because winters are no longer cold enough to kill the beetle. Already, our children are getting sick because the Lone Star tick is no longer confined to the Deep South, and now ranges as far north as the Canadian border. It brings with it several nasty diseases and an allergy to mammal meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison, and more). Already, sea levels are rising due to melting ice and thermal expansion (matter expands as it warms). Parts of several island nations and Bangladesh are already under water. Storm tides and flooding are becoming more damaging even here in the U.S.
No matter what we do, it’s going to get worse. The climate is more like a ship than a car: it responds slowly to stimuli. Even if we dropped our CO2 emissions to zero today it would take a decade or two for the current CO2 levels to show their full impact.
The question is, how much worse are we going to make it? What kind of world do we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in? We’re not talking about distant generations here. I have a four-year-old who will have to live with the effects of what we do now.
Of course, we can’t drop our CO2 emissions to zero today, or tomorrow, or this year. Our whole economy is based on fossil fuels, and our food supply is based on CAFOs and industrial farming. We’re not talking about a little “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.” We need a total remake of our economy.
And we don’t know how.
Those who have the power to change it don’t seem to be interested. They’re still focused on short-term profits. Sure, the old men who hold power will be dead before it gets really bad. But I have to wonder, don’t they have children and grandchildren? Are they that self-centered that they don’t care about their own kids?
I acknowledge, too, that no one wants to believe that what puts food on their table is bad. Challenge someone’s livelihood and you’ve got a fight on your hands. There are 6.4 million people employed in the fossil fuel industries in this country, and 6 million more in trucking. That’s a lot of jobs. The climate change industries are feeding a lot of mouths. It’s no wonder neither political party wants to talk about this. That’s a lot of voters!
We need real solutions. And we need them fast. I think we’ve reached the point at which climate change is the biggest problem we face. And we’re not going to get them by waiting silently for our fossil-fuel-funded leaders (right and left) to create them for us.
WE need to start talking. We need to start planning. We need to start looking for answers.
Or we need to start preparing our kids to live in an inhospitable world.