Year 3, Month 6, Day 11: We Are The Great Four Hundred

The Columbus (IA) Republic, on hitting 400:

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Until now.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.

So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.

Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.

The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.

“This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high,” he said.

A rehash of yesterday’s letter. Sent June 1:

I vividly remember the excitement we experienced as kids when our station wagon’s odometer turned over; on the day we passed 100,000 miles, Dad decelerated a bit and my brother and I called off the tenths of a mile until all the zeroes lined up on the dashboard and the family broke out in cheers. We did a lot of driving in those days — unwittingly, it turns out, making our contribution to a far more ominous numerical landmark.

400 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 is nothing to celebrate. We long ago passed the critical level of 350 ppm, the concentration climatologists consider the maximum level consistent with the continued survival of our civilization, and even if we stopped burning fossil fuels completely, things would still keep getting hotter for decades. The next few centuries are going to be a rough ride for life on Earth. Why are the climate-change denialists in media and politics working hard to keep us from buckling up our seat belts?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 28: Hot Air Jokes Aside, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Popular Mechanics covers the “People are waking up” by running a short interview with Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist. It’s worth reading the whole thing:

Yesterday The New York Times covered a new poll showing that an increasing number of Americans are linking the extreme weather events of the past few years—including the extremely warm March 2012, droughts, and hurricanes—to climate change. We asked Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute and a member of PM’s Editorial Board of Advisers, why he thinks this shift is happening, and if it means that policy changes could be on the horizon.

Q: What’s your first reaction to these polling numbers?

A: I am not really surprised. Most people don’t have a very sophisticated grasp of what climate change is, which is completely understandable. But people do have a visceral connection to weather; they talk about it, understand it, and they’re very fond of extremes in weather (in a conversational way.)

Since it was Popular Mechanics, I figured a mechanical analogy would do the trick. Let’s see. Sent April 19:

While it’s good to know that increasing numbers of Americans are connecting the dots between extreme weather and global climate change, it’s unrealistic to expect that the shifting winds of public opinion will lead to changes in our country’s energy and environmental policies.

Why? The answer can be expressed in simple analogical terms.

Policy development in the USA is driven not by public opinion, but by private cash — the vast sums of money required by political campaigns motivate lawmakers far more powerfully than any number of concerned constituents. Unlike cutting-edge hybrid and electric automobiles, our politicians are almost entirely fueled by petroleum. If we as citizens want our nation’s policies to reflect environmental reality and address the climate crisis with the requisite seriousness, it’s not just our technology that needs to change, but the political system that has made a robust response to the climate crisis impossible.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 22: Move Over, Earthlings! The Planet {!Z@p&rd*p*!} Needs Lebensraum.

Chronic morosity and worriage is not generally compatible with prosidic goofiness. But today I made an exception for this LTE to the Reno News & Review, which ran a short piece about the pod people on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

This one was mailed a while back but somehow failed to make it onto the schedule for posting. Mailed March 17:

It reads like the plot of a late-night “B” movie: aliens take over the bodies of American politicians and start passing laws undermining America’s support for science. If the current crop of GOP legislators were actually extras in a “Plan 9 From Outer Space” knockoff, we’d be able to sit back and munch popcorn while making jokes at their expense. Given the potential for crippling impacts on American agriculture, infrastructure and public health from runaway climate change, it’s astonishing that the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee won’t even admit the problem exists, let alone take steps to address it. These cynical opportunists really do walk, talk and legislate like enemies of our species, making a compelling case for the “alien enemy” hypothesis. Unfortunately, these invaders from the Tea-party Nebula are entirely real, and their anti-science agenda is endangering both our global reputation and our national future.

Warren Senders