26 Dec 2010, 12:13am

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    Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
  • Month 12, Day 26: Boxing Day Special Edition

    The Guardian (UK) sounds a call to action:

    On an observatory 11,000 feet high on Mauna Loa, a volcano in Hawaii, a pair of ageing, automated detectors have been churning out details about the make-up of our atmosphere for several decades. This month, they produced their most alarming result to date. They showed that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have touched 390 parts per million – a 40% increase on pre-industrial levels.

    The timing was striking. Just as negotiators were reaching their compromise deal on global warming in Cancún two weeks ago, the Mauna Loa machines showed the problem of greenhouse gas emissions – left largely unresolved in Mexico – have reached an unprecedented level. Humans have procrastinated while the composition of the air around us has changed remorselessly.

    It is a point stressed by Pieter Tans, who heads the US government’s carbon monitoring programme. “I find it shocking,” he said after Republican politicians claimed carbon dioxide posed no threat to Earth. “We really are in a predicament here and it’s getting worse every year.”

    The comments at the bottom of this article prompted this letter.

    Unable to refute the facts, global-warming deniers resort to conspiracy theories of ever-greater intricacy in their efforts to explain away a worldwide consensus of experts. Some paranoid constructions insist that climatologists seek to profit on so-called “green technologies”; others claim that attempts to mitigate global warming’s effects herald an attempt to impose a One-World Socialist Regime. Religious framings often assert the inevitability of the Biblical Armageddon simultaneously with the notion that “God won’t let climate change happen.” Finally there is the claim that humanity will be fine when atmospheric CO2 levels reach 600 or so, since they were much higher at earlier points in Earth’s history. Only this last theory, which suggests scientific misunderstanding rather than willful obduracy, is worthy of response. While CO2 was indeed much higher in the Mesozoic Era than it is today, this accumulation took millions and millions of years, allowing life an opportunity to adapt. Anthropogenic global warming will accomplish the same transformation in a century or so. Abrupt changes can be catastrophic. Just ask anyone whose car has hit a wall.

    Warren Senders

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