Today's number: 387
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels now stand at 387 parts per million.Skip to next paragraph
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[Source: The Guardian]
That's almost 40 percent higher than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the highest they've been for at least the past 650,000 years.
And it's also apparently 37 ppm too high. In a paper published last month, NASA's chief climatologist, James Hansen, noted that our atmosphere's current levels of carbon dioxide spell catastrophe for the planet and its inhabitants. "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted," he wrote, "paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
If we fail to achieve these reductions, say Hansen and his colleagues, we run the risk of reaching a tipping point at which climate change becomes irreversible.
According to the paper, we can bring these levels back down by phasing out all coal emissions by 2030. That will keep peak CO2 at 400 ppm. We can reduce it by another 50, says Hansen, through reforestation.
What you can do
This is the big one. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is humanity's greatest environmental challenge, and possibly humanity's greatest challenge, period. You probably already know many of the myriad steps that you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint (if not, you can start by calculating your footprint it here). But beating climate change is going to take more than just individual lifestyle changes. We'll need to change the way our civilization is designed. That means putting the pressure on industry and on your representatives in government – some of whom will be traveling to Copenhagen at the end of next year to negotiate a post-Kyoto climate framework – by employing petitions, marches, rallies, ad campaigns, boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, whatever it takes to save the planet.