This year a milestone has passed. The atmosphere now has 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. This level is higher that at any time since humans have been on the planet and the consequences are frightening. Before our fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) burning, the amount varied from 180 ppm (ice ages, 8-9C cooler than today) to 280 ppm (pleasant interglacial such as we had 50 years ago).
The climate science community has pegged 350 ppm as the maximum sustainable safe amount; we need to reduce the amount with the utmost urgency.
The full effects of 400 ppm are not completely known, but enough is known that we can safely say our children will be very angry at us for choosing for this to happen. The carbon dioxide will stay in the air for hundreds of years, warming the earth to higher and higher temperatures during that time.
The Alberta bitumen ‘tar’ sands alone contain enough carbon to raise the temperature by 0.3C . A 1C temperature causes something like a 10 per cent drop in global food production. So the Aberta carbon will leave roughly 200 million people without food. In addition BC exports coal and is talking about liquefied natural gas too.
What can we do? With all the discussion of pipeline construction to speed up the burning of the carbon in the bitumen sands, it is important we understand that tomorrow our (grand) children will suffer from the climate that we vote for today. We have a choice; there are plenty of technological solutions to not using fossil fuels, but will need political leadership to implement them.
True, coal burning in other countries, such as the US and China, has a still bigger effect, but we can’t influence them until our own house is in order.
Ultimately this is about values; what are yours?
Dr. Tim Cooper