to hear Bill McKibben advocating civil disobedience … acknowledge that people may go to jail for their actions … was a telling indicator on how serious this long time climate change activist sees the issues
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at the Hawaiian Moana Loa Observatory passed the 400 parts per million level for the first time last month.

In scientific circles, 400 parts per million (ppm) may not be a big deal.  What is more concerning is the acceleration of the rate at which atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels is increasing.

To put the 400 ppm number in to perspective, before the industrial revolution, only 200 years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels did not exceed 280 ppm. That figure is based on actual readings of atmospheric chemistry from Antarctic ice-core data.

At the current rate of increase, the world will pass the 450 ppm level by 2030.

Interestingly, the Auckland Council are spending a lot of time, money and effort working out how to handle population growth of one million people over the same time scale.  Yet the Auckland Plan mentions climate change only twice, in passing, and does not cover mitigation or adaptation strategies at all.

A concentration of 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is widely considered to be the point at which global temperatures will have risen two degrees above pre-industrial levels.  Many believe that a 2-degree increase in temperatures would constitute “intolerably dangerous climate change.”  Some refer to this as a “tipping point” for self-accelerating global warming, the so-called “runaway greenhouse effect.” That figure represents a consensus by scientists so the actual tipping point might be more or less than two degrees.  What is clear is that two degrees is not a safe value for us to work towards.

The U.N.’s official goal is to keep CO2 levels below 450 ppm.   Ralph Keeling, founder of the Moana Loa Observatory, indicated before his death that the world is rapidly running out of time to make that happen.

Yet little has happened in New Zealand in the last three years to do something about the issue that is no longer looming – it is a here and now issue.

The outcome of last week’s official New Zealand Climate Change Conference has not yet resulted in the publication of any reports or action plans.

climate-Change-JailClimate Change Minister Tim Grosser has made it clear he does not argue with the science.   But he insists, ostrich like, that New Zealand not be a leader in the climate change mitigation stakes.  Prime Minister John Key acknowledges that climate change is happening at a rate faster than he would have hoped. But he apparently see the economic benefits of mining fossil fuels as outweighing the threats.

It is clear that local and central government do not yet see a powerful enough reason to plan ahead for adapting to climate disasters.  Instead, their priorities are on economic activity, so adding to the world’s green house gas emissions through increased domestic mining and consumption.

So it is clear that we, individually and collectively, must take action on climate change.  In spite of government policies and not because of them.

There is at least one group taking on that responsibility.

Many climate scientists have identified 350 ppm as the safe upper limit  for atmospheric CO2.  This level spurred the creation of the website 350.org, founded by Bill McKibben.

Bill McKibben is a highly regarded environmental author and an international climate change activist.  He is touring New Zealand this week with his ‘Do the Maths” talks as a guest of the New Zealand branch of 350.org.  At the Auckland meeting on June 11th, it was surprising to hear Bill McKibben advocating civil disobedience.  For him to acknowledge that people may go to jail for their actions in getting the politicians to listen and do something, was a telling indicator on how serious this long time climate change activist sees the issues.

3250.org’s “100% Possible” campaign aims to catalyse action to create a safer, healthier and thriving country beyond fossil fuels.  I for one am supporting that goal.  Will you?