400 ppm – what do we do now?

Posted May 13th, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on 400 ppm – what do we do now?

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Wish I had an easy answer. I mean, we need to step up work and the creation of new ways of life, obviously. Many are doing all they can already. Creating those new ways feels like a real priority to me – because the planet is changing all around us.

We need to learn those new ways because we will need to learn how to live in this new dynamic of ecological crisis, which will be matched at the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual levels. And we will need to learn those ways because we can’t count any longer on living with the expectations, comforts, and conveniences brought to us by this woefully unsustainable global economic culture in which we all learned how to live.

Here are a couple of links sharing the bad news. The first is from National Geographic announcing the findings of scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, our most important greenhouse gas emissions research station:

Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Level Passes 400 ppm

And this good article from the New York Times, one of the few news sources that really thinks this is a big story. The others? They announce it somewhere, and then go on with the other news.

Friends, this is the BIG news. This is the story that impacts virtually everything else – this and the other scary stories about the depletion on the planet of all the things we need for life.

Just to give you an idea of what social and cultural insanity looks like, I offer up to you this article on the front page of my local newspaper this morning. It’s about how the U.S., given our brilliant technological prowess in finding ways to force the earth to yield gas from rock, is preparing to export as much gas as the industry possibly can.

More U.S. gas may be exported

Part of the evidence of the insanity is how many people think this is a good idea. It means economic GROWTH!!!! It means JOBS!!!!!

And so it goes. Natural gas is touted as a clean energy, at least compared to oil and coal, because it burns more cleanly, lets out fewer emissions when used, say, in your house. You just don’t see a whole lot of reporting on the amount of emissions put into the atmosphere in the production process, and in the transport of it, now anticipated to rise exponentially.

Of course, the toxic contamination of the environment, and the destabilization of the earth, caused by fracking isn’t being considered here at all. These companies see the earth as one big energy-burning system to fuel industrial growth and economic profit. It’s like a meth habit – you just can’t stop even when you see your body falling apart.

What do we think of corporations, and the decision-makers within them, who can plan to ramp up extraction, production, and consumption of fossil fuels in the face of 400 ppm, a level of CO2 in the atmosphere not seen in 2-4 million years? What in the world are they thinking, and how do they sleep at night? Humans did not evolve in those conditions, and it looks more and more likely that we will not survive well or long as these conditions return to the planet.

Trust me – there won’t be bubbles big enough to keep all the humans and other species we need inside them. Ha ha! Maybe that’s what they’re thinking – climate controlled bubbles for the survivors!

The news is certainly impacting public opinion and increasing the number of people who know we have a problem. And that is where the work needs to really ramp up – and the vision enlarge. As 350, the supposed safe number for the atmosphere, recedes quickly, as it becomes quaint while the engine of industrial growth burns on, we have to get a better sense of the whole picture. For example, with all the attention on the Keystone XL pipeline, how many people know about the Enbridge 67 pipeline, which is planned to cross the midwest and will have an even higher capacity than the Keystone!?! Read all about it! This one, too, requires approval from the Obama administration, and I hear almost no vocal opposition at all. From this article:

“Canadian pipeline company Enbridge wants a Presidential Permit to expand its ‘Line 67′ from Hardesty, Alberta to Superior, WI.  That line was originally authorized for about 500,000 barrels per day capacity.  Enbridge is seeking to expand the pipeline’s physical design capacity by modifying pumping operations to achieve a design basis capacity of 880,000 barrels per day — larger than the Keystone XL Pipeline at 830,000 barrels per day.

“The U.S. Department of State is conducting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process as part of a Presidential Permit application and approval process to address the planned increase in the capacity of this pipeline.”

So what I’m saying is – don’t miss the forest for the trees. Understand what the big picture is. I’m afraid about Obama and Keystone, especially since Canada’s far-right prime minister, Stephen Harper, has let the White House know that the US will have trouble with Canada if it is rejected. Meanwhile, plans to move the tar sands crude out of Alberta, and plans to move the oil from the fracking fields of Bakken ND, proceed apace and advance rapidly. By the time public awareness catches up to the danger, the network of catastrophe will be well-established.

So, what do we do now? Stop being afraid to get out into our communities to talk about this, to make people aware of how serious it is. Stop being afraid of scaring people, because this really is scary, and fear can be a great motivator – if it is accompanied with things they can do!

And there is so much they can do. Learning how to live differently can become a great neighborhood, community, family project chock full of meaning and passion. Ramping up effective advocacy networks to press our government and our culture to begin breaking the addiction to earth-wasting energy sources can help people feel empowered and necessary.

The stakes are really high now – and there really is so much that we can do.


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