Published on Sunday, November 1, 2009 by

*Carbon Cuts: 350 Is Not Adequate*

by Karyn Strickler

Seeing children, activists, and ordinary people in 181 countries come
together around *'s* <> [1] worldwide at 5,200 day
of action events last week was truly inspirational.  Their goal of putting
the focus on science and citizens and not special corporate interests and
backroom deals is admirable.  They hoped to influence the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Copenhagen,
Denmark in December to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But their message could be dangerous, since in his paper, "Target
Atmospheric CO2:  Where Should Society Aim," NASA Climate scientist Jim
Hansen said recently, "The evidence indicates...that the safe *upper * limit
for atmospheric CO2 is *no more than* 350ppm."

If burning fossil fuels like coal and oil during industrialization has
created the mess we're in with climate change, it seems only logical that we
should aim for pre-industrial levels of *atmospheric *CO2 of 280 ppm.  We
should be aiming for a number that is sure to reverse climate change,
especially now that feedback effects like methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times
more powerful than CO2, is bubbling out of melting permafrost in the arctic
and could rapidly accelerate climate change.  If we're organizing around a
goal that is too little, too late, with the survival of humanity hanging in
the balance, we not just wasting time, we're toying with our own

We've come a long way from President Bush's plan to lower average U.S.
temperatures by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius, still we are currently
at 390 ppm CO2, rising 2 ppm annually.  Rising CO2 and other greenhouse gas
levels are directly linked to increase in average global temperatures, which
are now expected to rise as high as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the very worst
case scenario just a few years ago.

Carbon dioxide levels have risen higher in the past 100 years, than at any
other time in the past 800,000 years.  Carbon dioxide has a half life of up
to 800 years. That means that even if we dramatically cut CO2
*emissions *tomorrow, what's already in the atmosphere, will take a
LONG time to

On their website, [2] says, "We need an international agreement to
reduce carbon emissions fast..."  And, "We need an international agreement
to reduce carbon emissions fast."  Climate Scientist, Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel
with the Union for Concerned Scientists said, "Unfortunately, a reduction in
CO2 * emissions* still leads to growth in CO2 in the *atmosphere*.  Only the
complete elimination of CO2 *emissions* would lead to a slow reduction in
CO2 in the *atmosphere* over the next century."  So if we assume that [2] is aiming to cut emissions and not atmospheric greenhouse gases,
they are way off the mark.

We're already dramatically overshooting the upper limit and it's not clear
how long we can do so.  Hansen says, "If the present overshoot of this
target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible
catastrophic effects."  Hansen said, "We have passed tipping points, but we
have not passed a point of no return.  We can still roll things back, but it
is going to require a quick turn in direction."

In his brutally honest, but hopeful commencement speech at the University of
Portland, Paul Hawkins said, "Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to
figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every
living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of
a mind-boggling situation," he said..."but not one peer-reviewed paper
published in the last thirty years can refute that statement..."

"Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time
required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible," said
Hawkins.  So if you think aiming for 280 ppm *atmospheric* CO2 is
impossible, as Hawkins says, "Do what needs to be done, and check to see if
it was impossible only after you are done.
Karyn Strickler is a writer, political scientist and grassroots organizer.
She is the founder and chair of, working to elect candidates to
reverse catastrophic climate change.

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