Carbon in the atmosphere today and global warming

Juan Cole present some useful figures for visualizing the current situation of global warming. When I think about the current situation of green legislation and its many obstructionists (including the US government), I am nostalgic for the way of thinking of ancient societies that were very conscious of the effects of their decisions on the coming generations. In our hyperindividualistic society, where consumption and ephemeral pleasure are the means and the ends in life, we tend to forget that there will even be humans living on earth after we die, let alone people living on earth in the decades and centuries to come. This is the only explanation for which we can produce and consume so much styrofoam, which takes some 3000 years to break down. How many generations of humans will have to live with the Jamba juice cup we made us of for about 9 minutes?

Anyway, here are Juan Cole’s figures:

During human history on earth, there were typically 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Low levels of carbon dioxide have coincided with ice ages over the past 400,000 years. Only once in that period, 325,000 years ago, did carbon dioxide reach 300 parts per million, coinciding with a hot climate then. There are now 390 parts per million (ppm), with the extra carbon dioxide having been produced by the industrial revolution beginning in the late 18th century– coal-burning factories, railroad engines, etc., and then with the addition of gasoline-driven automobiles and coal- and gas-powered electricity plants in the 20th century. That is, we already have more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than in any time during the past nearly half-million years! …

Scientists such as James Hansen have concluded that 390 ppm of carbon dioxide particles in the atmosphere is too much for a sustainable earth comfortable for human life, and that we need to reduce the amount to 350 ppm. The world is currently adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide per year, so that in 2020 if that rate does not increase we will be at 410. As we approach 450 ppm, James Hansen’s projections suggest large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change (global warming is only part of the effect–some places may become much colder; the point is that the climate will change dramatically). See Hansen’s important new book, Storms of My Grandchildren….

And here’s this gem on the hypocrisy of Bin Laden, who has recently chastised the US for its antigreen stance (in the recent Copenhagen conference):

Since 9/11 was intended to provoke the Afghanistan War, Bin Laden is single-handedly responsible for among the biggest high-carbon set of events in the twenty-first century.

Hint: Provoking large-scale wars involves lots of use of aircraft carriers, tanks, and fighter-jets, as well as bombing strikes– all of which spew large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

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