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350 ppm is all we've got
September 27, 2009 8:35 PM   Subscribe

350 ppm

A new campaign by leading environmental organisations focuses on the simple message of 350, being the parts per million CO2 equivalent that recent science is telling us is the planet's long-term budget to avoid catastrophic human-induced climate change.

They're calling for a day of action on 24 October, prior to 'COP 15', the Copenhagen climate change conference from 7 to 18 December this year.
posted by wilful (73 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hat-tip to Robert Merkel at the Australian group blog Larvatus Prodeo for the initial notification. Informed commentary there.
posted by wilful at 8:37 PM on September 27, 2009


Informed commentary there.

Also, Missy Higgins.

good post, good links.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:45 PM on September 27, 2009


The die has already been cast. All we're really doing is waiting to see how it rolls. It is going to be catastrophic: the water shortages are going to be severe and are going to kill billions of people. If we get our shit together, we might avoid making it much, much worse than it needs to be; but it's going to be catastrophic regardless.

Fact of life. We need to start dealing with it, instead of the endless penny-ante shit the media and our politicians confound us with.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:45 PM on September 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


I hate ending a sentence like that. "…confound us with." Lazy, ugly writing.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:46 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nothing wins an argument like a three-digit number.
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 PM on September 27, 2009


Strange, first time I hit the link it was just an email subscription form, but now it's a regular site.

I saw Bill McKibben speak about this last year and I really like the idea of a benchmark amount that we can aim for, regardless of if it's 340, 350 or whatever. I wish governments would be wiling to commit to a measurable number like this, but alas...
posted by furtive at 8:49 PM on September 27, 2009


Well, as McKibben has said, it's pretty tough to get 160 nations to agree on anything. But it's probably easier than trying to argue with the laws of Nature.
posted by harriet vane at 8:55 PM on September 27, 2009


Nothing wins an argument like a three-digit number.

Oh, go 428 yourself, GuyZero.
posted by rokusan at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2009


China and India are huge countries that want no part in any of this. The countries that
would show interest and engage this goal would have a single digit percentage or less effect on the global levels if they engaged these methods.

Simple stuff like recycling tin cans, paper, and plastics are barely in effect in most American cities of 300,000 or less, if they are in effect it takes a 10-15 mile trip to do the recycling drop off. Goals are great but they have to be realistic. As with so many other things, this was simple, normal; and being good citizens. In the 1940s. Flash forward to 2009 and here we are.

Press release enviromentalism reminds me a lot of organized religions. Every group has its own secular method, they compete against each other for members, and often times the end result is not too much of a change in anything except for lotsa banners, traveling, and smiling pictures.
posted by buzzman at 9:01 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


too late
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2009


Glib generalisations that ignore the effects of awareness and status in determining people's actions reminds me a lot of how easy it is to throw your hands up and say there's nowt to be done.

I understand your concerns and disillusionment, buzzman, but dismissing campaigns like this as PR or feel-good exercises ignores the documented results they can yield. It also de-legitimises on of the few remaining ways in which the general public can participate in public discourse.
posted by smoke at 9:19 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Strange, first time I hit the link it was just an email subscription form, but now it's a regular site.

me too.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:20 PM on September 27, 2009


350 degrees?! i had no idea global warming was getting so bad!
posted by sexyrobot at 9:22 PM on September 27, 2009


who said 350 degrees?

Buzzman, I think you're wrong about China (not so much India). China has announced real targets for 2020, they're comitting more relatively than the USA.
posted by wilful at 9:26 PM on September 27, 2009


I'll be overseas when this happens or else I'd take part in an event in my city. There's no reason to succumb to fatalism.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:27 PM on September 27, 2009


There's no reason to succumb to fatalism.

There's no reason to do anything anymore. *sigh*
posted by kmz at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


China and India are huge countries that want no part in any of this.

Bullshit. Neither China nor India are dying to see their coastlines radically altered, but neither one yet puts out more CO2 then the U.S, and they have 3-4 times as many people. They don't think it's fair that the U.S. should be allowed to have such a higher per capita CO2 emission level.

But either way, both countries are on board with lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is the U.S. has been the one standing in the way. China certainly has been more pro-active in building green technology.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who expected this to be a promotion for a printer that can print 330 pages per minute?
posted by Nameless at 9:39 PM on September 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


It isn't that you only get a subscription form the first time, and have to hit it twice, it's just that you hit that as a splash page the first time. There's a link you can hit after the text boxes to skip to the real site. Their UI sucks, since apparently a few people thought that's all it was?
posted by floam at 9:41 PM on September 27, 2009


Am I the only one who saw that and thought: "That is one fast printer." Yes? Ok.

Oh, parts per million, not pages per minute. Man. It's late.
posted by The Bellman at 9:55 PM on September 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


Apparently Nameless and I are the only ones.

0 Previews Per MetaPost.
posted by The Bellman at 9:56 PM on September 27, 2009


Am I the only one who expected this to be a promotion for a printer that can print 330 pages per minute?

I would think it would be more likely to be a promotion for a printer that could do 350.

Actually, it turns out that the IBM Info print 4100 actually can do 330 pages per minute. I didn't find any that could do 350. Here is a rather boring video of it doing just that.
posted by delmoi at 10:07 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am in no means dismissing the goal of this organisation,and it is great to see actual measurements being used. Mauna Loa is a good place to do a world wide averaging of data. certainly better than Luxemburg. I would like to see what the CO2 numbers would be above LA, Taiwan, Mexico City, or some of the other 'smog pits' of the world.

Parent link to "too late" above, leads to CO2 data other locations.

Canada CO2

I'm surprised the Montreal Protocols actually had an effect.
posted by buzzman at 10:13 PM on September 27, 2009


Maybe this is an insider thing.

As someone who's never heard of this, I clicked on the link and got the e-mail subscription page (for what???), then tried again I finally got an actual page of some sort. Clicking around I finally get an explanation of some sort:

"We're calling on people around the world to organize an action on October 24 incorporating the number 350 at an iconic place in their community, and then upload a photo of their event to 350.org website."

Huh?

I suppose if I do a lot more clicking on these very slow loading pages I'll eventually find something that explains what the 350 number is all about without a lot of vague market-speak (which really turns me off) that infects most of the pages.

I'm all for helping the environment, but....this just isn't doing for me. Maybe someone here can explain what this is about and save me the painful clicking through the obtuse website. 350? Call to action? What kind of action?
posted by eye of newt at 10:14 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I hoped the [more inside] would have provided sufficient context.
posted by wilful at 10:22 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


We're really in no position to be telling China what to do. We owe them a trillion of dollars. And they supply us with hundreds of billions of dollars of crap consumer goods a year that this nation apparently can't live without, like shampoo bottles with Tigger heads for caps. You make a few hundred thousand of those in slave labor camp and you'd be praying for the destruction of the country responsible for it, too.

And we can't do anything ourselves. Obama can't even talk to the nation's school kids to tell them an education is a good thing without people losing their g*ddamned f*cking minds. Can you imagine if he tried to tell rednecks to cut down on red meat and monster trucks? We'd have another civil war on our hands.

Yeah, we're boned.

But I do take some small consolation in knowing when the oceans rise, Florida will be the first to go. O delicious irony, the one man that might have saved their state, they cheated out of office.
posted by Davenhill at 10:25 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


As per the ever bland yet seemingly endearing wikipedia, China puts out more CO2 than the US.
posted by buzzman at 10:38 PM on September 27, 2009


The post is okay--I eventually read the other links and know what the 350 is all about.

I'm mainly criticising the 350 site itself. It is like "Hey everybody, 350! Call to Action! Come-on, let's help the environment!" all tied to very slow loading pages. Maybe an opening page explaining what exactly the issues are and what 350 stands for might have helped. But like I said, maybe it's a page for insiders.
posted by eye of newt at 10:39 PM on September 27, 2009


China's C02 emissions are larger than the US in total now.

They are also growing at ~6-7% per year from the per capita figures.

The Chinese have only committed to reducing carbon intensity until 2020. i.e. as well as increasing emissions they promise to also get richer.
posted by sien at 10:41 PM on September 27, 2009


Even if it were too late to stop it, you could still try to experience and be part of nature a little more while you can. Get out of your car, stop flying around for no good reason, and turn off things you don't need to leave on. Go outside and get a last (and probably first) look at everything.

If you need 350 of something to make you feel as if you've done something, try counting 350 species in your neighborhood (as a last resort, you can include dead samples found at the grocery store). Upload a picture of you posed with other species of plants and animals living in your neighborhood. Make sure you caption your pictures -- "Left to right: Homo sapiens, Trifolium repens, Bombus terrestris" and "Corvus corax, Quercus alba, Homo sapiens" and so on. Family snapshots.
posted by pracowity at 10:49 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to succumb to fatalism.

There's no reason to do anything anymore. *sigh*



I was all set to succumb to apathy, but now I just can't be bothered.
posted by darkstar at 10:56 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


As per the ever bland yet seemingly endearing wikipedia, China puts out more CO2 than the US.
posted by buzzman at 10:38 PM on September 27 [+] [!]


per-country emissions figures are fairly meaningless. If you want to calculate CO2 emissions per capita for a country you have to look at consumption. Otherwise countries and regions with a service based economy will look like they're very low carbon just because all their goods are manufactured elsewhere.
posted by atrazine at 11:03 PM on September 27, 2009


If you want to calculate CO2 emissions per capita for a country you have to look at consumption.

It's helpful to look at both. Just because China isn't consuming all that junk that they produce, the CO2 generated during production is still something they are ultimately responsible for reducing.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:05 PM on September 27, 2009


It doesn't amount to us (US) telling the Chinese, or the Indians, or any one else what to do. There's no political agenda behind the phenomenon of global warming. 350, or 386 or whatever ppm atmospheric CO2 is a simple fact. The situation cannot be rectified by placing or accepting "blame". It's not a guilt issue. However much CO2 (and other greenhouse gases, dust, smoke, etc.) we, or Mexico, or Australia or Russia or Luxembourg are currently releasing to the atmosphere, there is going to be climate change. Our efforts would be better spent on forecasting what the changes will be like, and preparing to live with them. It is too late to avoid them. They are here. It. is. too. late. to. avoid. them. Deal with it.
posted by carping demon at 11:11 PM on September 27, 2009


well, aptly named carping demon, there's impacts and there's impacts. It's not like a big switch where cliamte change is on or off. There's a big difference between a 350 ppm world, a 550 ppm world and a 750 ppm world, for example.

I personally think it's in all our best interests to aim for as low as possible, which, given that we're already at ~390 ppm CO2, means radical action to restrucutre our lifestyles. But, given that that wont happen very soon (but oh it will happen eventually), it's still worth asking for the warming to be as limited as possible, whatever it may be.
posted by wilful at 11:18 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Simple stuff like recycling tin cans, paper, and plastics are barely in effect in most American cities of 300,000 or less, if they are in effect it takes a 10-15 mile trip to do the recycling drop off.

I saw a stat claiming that in the end, only 13% of disposable (single serving) water bottles ends up actually being recycled.

I suppose the rest end up highly compacted as landfill. At least they'll be easy to "mine" when we can do something useful with them. Better they be in bales instead of mixed in with all the other crap.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:27 PM on September 27, 2009


Just because China isn't consuming all that junk that they produce, the CO2 generated during production is still something they are ultimately responsible for reducing.

No, the consumer is ultimately responsible.

If the consumer demands green-produced products, green products will be what the consumer gets. Country of manufacture enters into it only so far as a countries environmental and employee laws support or hinder certain cost-cutting and greenification measures.

How much oil is being wasted because dipshit consumers demand Tigger-headed shampoo bottles? The produces are honestly not ultimately responsible: we need to change consumer thinking. The waste we create by being stupid about things like shampoo bottles is simply insane.

Unsustainable, even. And sustainability is the ultimate bottom line. We need to get a clue about that.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:40 PM on September 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, wilful, what I'm saying is "radical action to restructure our lifestyles" is definitely required, and, indeed, "it won't happen very soon." There may not be "a big switch", but there are tresholds and tipping points and abrupt transistions (there's a word for that but it escapes me now). As an illustration, if you know the lake you're living on is going to disappear in some number of years, your actions to restructure your lifestyle had better be concentrated on how to live without the lake, because most of the efforts you make to maintain the existence of the lake are going to be wasted. They ultimately won't save the lake, and they won't move your lifestyle in the direction of being able to live without it. So, great if it keeps you damp a little longer, but there will come a time when its toooo late.
posted by carping demon at 11:49 PM on September 27, 2009


I'm so old I can remember when climate change wasn't even real. Now it's so real there's nothing we can do to mitigate it.

I wonder if there was ever any middle ground between these two extremes of doing absolutely nothing.
posted by gerryblog at 12:01 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think so, gerryblog. Once our species progressed to the conception that the world was put here for our use, the middleground was gone.
posted by carping demon at 12:11 AM on September 28, 2009


Here's a fair bit more info from the authors of Climate Code Red on the difference between 350 and 450 targets.

Really good (well quite depressing) book, by the way.
posted by wilful at 12:18 AM on September 28, 2009


It's the natural consequence of sticking your head under the covers in denial when your house is on fire. By the time it's severe enough to convince even the skeptical, your ass is already in flames.
posted by darkstar at 12:19 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plane and car travel essentially output the same amount of CO2 per passenger mile. I've always found incongruous the amount of travel that some otherwise "environmentally friendly" folks do. Flying from Seattle to London and back is, from a CO2 standpoint, the same as driving 10,000 miles in a car.
posted by maxwelton at 12:27 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, what stake to various countries actually have in halting or reducing climate change? That seems to be the real question.

At the end of the day, I expect every nation to do some sort of calculation like this:

[benefits of continued fossil fuel use] - (costs of dramatic climate change) = ?

If it works out positive, you tell the rest of the world to go pound sand and burn coal like it's going out of style. (At least you do if you have nuclear weapons and a big economy and can't be bossed around.)

If it works out negative, then you have a reason to cut back. However, it's probably only worth cutting if the other big emitters also do it — if they don't, then you still get climate change, but you get screwed out of the economic benefits of all that sweet, sweet carbon. So you keep burning in the hopes of having lots of money and resources to cushion the coming blow, which is now a fait accompli.

Given this, the only hope I can see for real action to be taken is if the major emitters all agree that the costs and risks of climate change exceed the benefits of continuing to irresponsibly use fossil fuels. If even one or two major emitters decide that they can live with the effects of climate change (or, worse yet, that they might actually benefit from them), then the whole thing falls apart. If there's no mutually assured destruction, there's no deal.

In the US, it seems as though we've only recently come around to the side of 'reduce' being the preferable option. (I still hear people saying that global warming would be a good thing for crop production.) In Europe, they've apparently been on the 'reduce' side for a while. India seems to have come around as well. But from the sound of things, the Chinese are still up in the air. If they decide that they can deal with climate change on their own—that the benefits of continuing to supercharge their economy with cheap energy outweighs the cost of rebuilding parts of their coastal cities inland, or building huge irrigation projects to deal with drought, etc., whatever it takes—then I don't see a global deal happening. At least not one of substance. If China keeps burning and pumping out CO2, there's a strong disincentive for anyone else to cut back (particularly, I would imagine, India) lest they fall behind economically. Plus, it means that other nations need to cut back that much harder in order to have the same effect on the climate (and if you can't achieve a meaningful effect, you might as well keep burning). It pushes the calculus away from 'reduce' and towards 'burn' in multiple ways.

The fate of millions or billions of people, many in countries like Bangladesh—populous and vulnerable but geopolitically weak, may lie in the hands of somebody in the Chinese Politburo. Anyone know how to lobby to them?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:45 AM on September 28, 2009


> Strange, first time I hit the link it was just an email subscription form, but now it's a regular site.

Same. I guess it's a cookie thing..
posted by cj_ at 1:12 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


carping demon: Our efforts would be better spent on forecasting what the changes will be like, and preparing to live with them.

Missed that whole IPCC thing, did you?

I don't recall the memo that the choice was between mitigation and dealing with the impacts. The IPCC apparently missed it too, because that's what they, y'know, do.

Both of them. At the same time. Clever, aren't they?

If your media and/or politicians are only telling you one side of the story, then it doesn't mean the other side of the story must be ignored. It just means you've got the problem of crap media and/or politicians to deal with as well.

As for the whole "well, China / India has more people, and they're not doing anything, so why should we bother?" argument: it's crap. Overall, 310 million Americans currently consume more energy / food / resources than 1.2 billion Indians or 1.35 billion Chinese, and produce a comparably higher % of global emissions and waste. That alone appears, given all the information we have at hand, to be unsustainable. It's not them that are causing problems, or are going to cause them - we have already caused them.

(I include my own piddling little country of 22 million amongst that "we", BTW, so I'm not letting myself off the hook either...)

The rest of the world keeps hearing how America is a world leader. Well, fucking lead!
posted by Pinback at 2:00 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Overshoot was recommended in another thread. I bought it. Thought-provoking reading.
posted by flabdablet at 2:30 AM on September 28, 2009


Plane and car travel essentially output the same amount of CO2 per passenger mile.

I would worry about it if people actually flew. But, in comparison to passenger cars, we don't fly. US airplanes travelled 6.6 billion miles in 2006. Cars? Traveled 1.6 trillion, and when you include things on the road that aren't cars? 3.0 trillion

Passenger miles by car are an order of magnitude more in the US, and are probably even more so in other parts of the world.

I'm all for replacing short haul flights -- Chicago-St. Louis or London-Edinburgh should be train, not plane -- but really, if you think that air travel is the thing we need to attack first, second or third, you're not even wrong.

1) Cars
2) Cars, again
3) Cars, again.

The single largest CO2 emitter in the US that a person owns is a car. Get that down 50%, and then attacking plane emissions makes sense. But compared to cars? Or coal fired electricity plants? Not worth our time.
posted by eriko at 5:22 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cars are important, but if we replace every fuel-using car with an electric one, and then power them all with coal, we'll have solved jack shit. The coal plants gotta go. And I say that from the Midwest, where much of my electrical usage comes via coal-burning. If that means my electric bills double, well, ya know, that's okay. A wise person once said that the cure for high gas prices was high gas prices -- demand destruction. The same should apply to coal-powered electricity, but that's a very powerful special interest who will fight anything that impedes their profit-making.

Also, China produces more carbon than we do now overall, although per capita they obviously produce far less because of their enormous population. But they're going to do their part: they just spent like $200 billion on getting green, compared to the $80 billion we spent in our stimulus package, or 2.5 *times* our investment. Clearly their goal is to be the Green Giant of the future.
posted by jamstigator at 6:10 AM on September 28, 2009


Hey cool! My band recorded a track for a compilation album for this campaign. It was an interesting experience - we were completely unaware of the campaign and all the producer told us was that he wanted a song about "nature" or something. So we have this neat little song that hamdog wrote about being out in the woods and how it's so great and fishing and stuff.
When we finished recording we asked to listen to the other tracks - apparently the other bands had been a little more "in the know" because suddenly we were hearing tracks by some of our favorite groups that were about "the number, man!" and "threeee fiftyyyyy!!! RAWK!" and electric cars and shit. We were all, wtf is 350? and the production engineer was like, "man it's like shit in the air and stuff" and we all ate some free pizza.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Climate Change is not like Ebola or Black Death, it won't kill off the human specie. It is more like malnutrition, or MS - a long lifetime of chronic illness. There is no such thing as giving up, or throwing in the towel, humans will survive. It's a choice we make, how do we want to live, well or poorly.
posted by stbalbach at 7:52 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly.
posted by carping demon at 8:01 AM on September 28, 2009


Sadly we are on a one-way express elevator to a high CO2 atmosphere. This isn't about fatalism, it's about deliberate choice.

As a species we have chosen not to do what needs to be done.

Yes, some are cutting their emissions and are doing their utmost but they are the minority. The rest of us are deliberately and repeatedly saying no.

The easiest way out was to triple or quadruple the cost of gasoline and coal-generated power. We could have done this years ago but we didn't. We could do this now but we're not going to. Our species just isn't good at long-term disaster prevention. We usually don't get cracking until the sh*t hits the fan.

But this is not a reason for despair. What humans are good at is adaptation. We're good at bouncing back after the fact. We should embrace this strength and forget about being angels (or rather we should be skeptical of our angelic potential).

We can't do global carbon emission control but we can do local flood control (well, ok New Orleans is not a great example, but something is still getting done). We can plan infrastructure for increasing climate variability. We can ramp up emergency preparedness and build up food stocks.

Homo sapiens: We don't do futures but we kick ass after a boot in the head.
posted by storybored at 8:30 AM on September 28, 2009


The big problem with coal (for the US, at least, which really means "for the world" effectively) is that we have a shitload of it and it doesn't cost that much to get. The "free market" will not make coal expensive any time in the next 500 years. So to get coal phased out, we either need to find something less expensive per joule of energy produced (chances of this happening are essentially zero) or governments have to make coal really expensive. Which government is going to announce that it has just proudly put in place new policies that will make your electric bill four times higher? It won't happen unless and until climate change is so severe and obvious that large numbers of people are dying due to causes that cannot plausibly be attributed to anyone else, even by people who really really want to.

The only other possibility is developing coal plants that emit zero CO2, which I believe has been done in a trial project. I don't know what the cost impact is, and my guess would be that it probably is the same as taxing the hell out of coal to make it unreasonably expensive, but it seems like an easier political sell. "Green jobs" get created, coal miners keep working, and we bury the added energy cost in tax policy somehow.
posted by rusty at 8:57 AM on September 28, 2009


I'm involved in hosting a 350 event in my town. What's really depressing is how easily the other side can win the message war. We have a budget of zero dollars for our event, so everything is donated or provided by volunteers. I felt like we were doing a pretty good job cobbling together an event with enough attractions to get some people to show up.

Then I heard a segment on NPR about an event somewhere that was rallying support in opposition of cap and trade. It was hosted by some astroturf organization backed by oil money. They rented a popular bar, gave out free t-shirts, had a big name band, showed a video with country music stars explaining how cap and trade will raise your taxes, etc. I'm sure the hosting organization had a paid staff putting everything together.

All the hard work of regular people spending their free hours organizing for the opposite point of view is so easily swept away by side with the money.
posted by diogenes at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2009


Getting my trusty Q-Trak out of the case. . .

Firing it up. . .

Taking it outside. . .

Oh shit! (374 ppm)
posted by Danf at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2009


I have a personal theory, which I've not read into or researched at all. So I'm going to throw it out here, if some MeFites would care to reveal any ignorance on my part, that'd be cool.

The best thing that a government can invest in is green energy, and it should come out of the defence budget.

If you consider that projection of power is about supporting national interests abroad, and how often those national interests are tied into energy, then green energy at home would reduce the need for this. It would also reduce the amount of leverage other countries would have when it comes to bargaining for other things.

Thoughts? Again, I stress that I've not given this a huge amount of thought.

Oh, and some people might be interested in this.
posted by djgh at 9:50 AM on September 28, 2009


China has more than six times the population of the United States, and yet barely beats us in CO2 emissions, despite having much of our manufacturing base - and so we're telling China to reduce CO2 emissions?

Is it just me, or does that seem a bit backwards?
posted by FormlessOne at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw one of those "Earth After Humans" shows on the television machine the other day. Although they always have the human race simply vanishing quickly & cleanly—rather than the Mad Max scenarios which will probably comprise the twenty-second century—still, I found the peaceful, quiet green world of cockroaches, wolf packs & feral cats a thousand years from now to be quite comforting & attractive.
posted by Forrest Greene at 9:59 AM on September 28, 2009


Cars are important, but if we replace every fuel-using car with an electric one, and then power them all with coal, we'll have solved jack shit.

False. Electric cars use a lot less energy to do the same job. The dirtiest coal plant isn't remotely dirty enough to make up the difference.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


if we replace every fuel-using car with an electric one

Reducing internal combustion cars with electric ones is not the only alternative (nor the one that most people suggest). Alternative modes of transport -- bicycle, bus, rail -- and changing settlement patterns to reduce the need for personal transport are how we get rid of petrol cars. The kind of thinking that assumes everyone who has a car now will always need an exactly equivalent vehicle is way too limited.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


There earth's process of self-correction as we throw her systems off with excess CO2 could be a blessing or a curse, or more likely some of both. Because CO2 is rising out of synch with temperature (historically CO2 rises as a RESULT of temp increase, not the other way around) we don't know exactly how the word's systems will react. The fossil (or ice, rather) record simply doesn't show what happens when CO2 rises ahead of a temperature increase.

All signs to point to this being sucky, for sure. I'm still hoping the earth could have some more tricks up her sleeve. Hopefully we do too.
posted by cbecker333 at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2009


We know what is going to happen.
  • The permafrost tundra is going to melt, raising CO2 levels beyond belief.
  • The frozen petro hydrates on the continental shelf seabeds is going to melt, putting more methane in the air than we can comprehend.
    And, oh, the permafrost melted substantially this year. Bubbles were observed in the deeper Arctic lakes. Our worst nightmares (runaway CO2 and methane release) are already happening.

  • posted by five fresh fish at 7:29 PM on September 28, 2009


    The frozen petro hydrates on the continental shelf seabeds is going to melt

    Water at that depth is pretty much at a perpetual 4 deg C. It's going to take a lo of heat to raise the temperature of the bottom of the ocean. Unless you have some specific information about this I'm skeptical.
    posted by GuyZero at 8:30 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


    permaculture!

    Because it is works at any scale!
    posted by tarantula at 9:02 PM on September 28, 2009


    This is interesting reading, re: the mechanisms for the release of carbon.
    posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 PM on September 28, 2009


    We're really in no position to be telling China what to do. We owe them a trillion of dollars.

    I've never understood why people think the fact we owe them money means we have no leverage over them. Haven't you heard the old saying "If you owe the bank $1,000 and can't pay, you've got a problem. If you owe the bank $1,000,000, and you can't pay, the bank has a problem"

    If we wanted to fine china for something (like CO2 emissions), all we have to do is deduct the fine from what we owe them.
    posted by delmoi at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2009


    Sadly we are on a one-way express elevator to a high CO2 atmosphere. This isn't about fatalism, it's about deliberate choice.

    As a species we have chosen not to do what needs to be done.
    Ugh, this fatalism is just so annoying.
    posted by delmoi at 7:12 AM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Fatalism = in the long run we are all dead.
    posted by storybored at 7:44 AM on September 29, 2009


    djgh: "The best thing that a government can invest in is green energy, and it should come out of the defence budget.

    If you consider that projection of power is about supporting national interests abroad, and how often those national interests are tied into energy, then green energy at home would reduce the need for this.
    "

    This has not been lost on the US military. Cf. DARPA Solicitation for Biofuel JP-8 Replacement, DARPA Portable Power Fuel Cell program, University of Utah algae-based diesel replacement for military vehicles.

    In addition, there is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, although recently it has seemingly been used more to even out price spikes than as a true "strategic reserve." The idea behind the SPR, as I understand it, was to give the US military the ability to re-establish natural supplies of petroleum (by force) in the event of a cutoff bad enough to affect defense posture.

    Also, I've heard ethanol subsidies justified on defense grounds. While this is probably in large part just a hollow justification spouted by the farm lobby, you probably could extend the SPR by quite a bit by diverting all domestic ethanol production to the military and then blending it into the petroleum fuel. I think most modern military vehicles can handle at least a 10 or 15 pct ethanol/diesel blend, or could with minor modifications.

    But more generally, you're absolutely correct that more domestic energy sources would probably reduce the need for foreign force projection (and ugly foreign policy deals with unsavory people, e.g. the Saudis). Right now, it does not seem as though most military alt-energy programs are nearly ambitious enough to have any effect this way, though.
    posted by Kadin2048 at 11:07 AM on September 29, 2009


    By the way, Unchecked global warming could bring a severe temperature rise of 4C within many people's lifetimes, according to a new report for the British government that significantly raises the stakes over climate change.
    posted by wilful at 9:06 PM on September 29, 2009


    One major supporter is top NASA climatologist James Hansen:

    "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

    By contrast, many environmental organizations have expressed support for targets between 450 ppm and 550 ppm, usually while hoping that such an increase would not generate more than 2°C of additional warming. Whether it would do so or not depends primarily on the relative strength of feedbacks within the climate system.

    With extremely aggressive cuts in human greenhouse gas emissions, it could be possible to stabilize concentrations below their current levels. One major reason for this is the oceans. When CO2 is added to the atmosphere, it is akin to adding more CO2 to the area of air at the top of a soda bottle. Left alone, some of that extra CO2 will end up dissolved in the soda. In precisely the same way, if human beings were to stop emitting CO2 today, the levels would gradually begin to decline, until the amount of CO2 dissolving into the ocean became equal to the amount bubbling out of the oceans: a stable equilibrium with constant macroscopic properties. As such, the oceanic acidification that arises from climate change does, to some extent, reduce the amount of warming that would result from any set quantity of CO2 emissions.
    posted by sindark at 7:57 AM on October 2, 2009


    Note that ocean acidification causes problems in its own right.
    posted by flabdablet at 10:05 AM on October 2, 2009


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