Three hundred and fifty parts per million. That's the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the air. We can get back to that level, and stabilize the climate so that we leave our kids a life-sustaining planet, but not if we keep consuming what Thom Hartmann refers to as "our dwindling supplies of ancient sunlight."
Hartmann explains that by burning that ancient sunlight we are releasing so much CO2 into the atmosphere that in the past 20 years the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million to over 370 parts per million.* Dialing back down to 350 is imperative. With the aim of shifting U.S policies toward the 350 goal, Bill McKibben and the 350 Campaign he inspired are hoping to persuade President Obama to act decisively at December's U.N. climate meeting in Poland.
I'm not holding my breath for the President -- or Congress -- to force the pace of change, but I am full of hope nonetheless. Policies are going to change for the better, and change fast, thanks to the the spontaneous upsurge of community action groups. Based on what I read in the papers, I feel pretty sure this is happening across the country; I know for a fact that it's happening in my neighborhood.
Last week I joined with about 20 other Amherst residents to watch The 11th Hour. I showed up because Meg, my wife, forwarded the e-mail invite that she had received from a neighbor called Beth. When I read the e-mail what really made me want to go wasn't so much the choice of film but the names of the other invitees: I didn't recognize most of them. I was excited that whatever kind of event Beth was pulling together it was going to be something other than a round-up of the usual suspects.
Beth, who brought us together, talked about the value of sharing what we're doing as individuals and families to tackle global warming. I think this combination of personal responsibility and collective action is the key to the transformation that is happening at the grassroots.
After the film was over, we had a conversation about what it was that had prompted each of us to brave the weather (it's pretty darn cold in Western Mass right now) for the get-together at Beth's home. There was a real mix of experiences and backgrounds. No politicians (unless I still count as one) and no attorneys (ditto) which was wonderful for so many reasons. Not that I have anything against politicians and attorneys, of course.
I got the sense that all of us are working on being the change we want to see in the world, and at the same time we realize that, in the words of Al Gore, "we have to abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer."
That realization is at the root of the March 1 protest at Mount Tom. We know that, by itself, stopping GDF-Suez (the company that owns the Mount Tom plant) from burning coal won't halt global warming. But it is one of the many steps we have to take, and take quickly. Come along.
* I have just started reading Hartmann's book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late, which I bought earlier this evening at Amherst Books, one of our town's two outstanding independent bookstores.