24 October is United Nations Day but has also been named 350 Day for global action by the organization 350.org that wants an atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration of no more than 350 parts per million (ppm). Top climate scientists now say that CO2 must be 300-350 ppm ASAP for a safe planet for all peoples and all species.
When we face life-threatening disease we turn for advice to top medical experts at the cutting edge of research in the relevant medical disciplines. For parents to do otherwise in relation to their sick children or non medicos to advocate otherwise would be seen as utterly irresponsible with potential culpability in manslaughter if the sick persons die.
The same applies to other areas of risk management of which the most critical for humanity at the moment are nuclear weapons, poverty and man-made climate change. Because we have a carbon-based global economy and because “money buys votes” in the hugely polluting and media oligopoly-dominated Western democracies (Murdochracies), Western governments are simply not facing up to their responsibilities for curbing man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.
The big question for politicians and voters is how much more GHG pollution can we afford to pump out into the atmosphere? The answer from top climate scientists is that not only must we STOP polluting the atmosphere as soon as possible (ASAP) but we also need to REDUCE the atmosphere CO2 from the present 390 ppm to about 300-350 ppm for a safe planet for all peoples and all species.
Unfortunately, world governments want to INCREASE GHG pollution and are thus heading in the opposite direction from that advocated by top scientists and top scientific organizations who say we must REDUCE GHG pollution and in particular must REDUCE the atmosphere CO2 concentration from the current 390 ppm to 300-350 ppm. Shockingly, CO2 concentration is currently increasing at the fastest rate (2.5 ppm per year) in the post-industrial era and indeed for millions of years.
I am a 5 decade career research biochemist, author of over 100 scientific publications and 4 books and involved in the area of plant biochemistry that is intimately related to man-made climate change and its solutions. However if there is one thing one learns as a scientist it is to appreciate your own deficiencies and to take very seriously the opinions of the top scientists in your own discipline and in other disciplines.
Below are selected individual and collective opinions of outstanding climate scientists in relation to the urgent need to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 to 300-350 ppm for a safe planet for all peoples and all species. For detailed documentation the reader is referred to an extensive compilation of such opinions by 300.org that demands a return of atmosphere CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial 300 ppm CO2; see “300.org – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm “: .
1. Dr James Hansen (top US climate scientist; Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; member of the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences; 2007 Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science; Adjunct Professor, Columbia University, New York, USA): “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”
2. Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research., Germany (2008): ““It is a compromise between ambition and feasibility. A rise of 2oC could avoid some of the big environmental disasters, but it is still only a compromise…It is a very sweeping argument, but nobody can say for sure that 330ppm is safe. Perhaps it will not matter whether we have 270ppm or 320ppm, but operating well outside the [historic] realm of carbon dioxide concentrations is risky as long as we have not fully understood the relevant feedback mechanisms”
3. Professor Barry Brook (Sir Hubert Wilkins chair of climate change and director of climate science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute ): “If the planet is like an oven, it’s still possible to turn down the temperature. The number is 300 and the methods will be extraordinary. In 2007, a climate awareness campaign was launched by well-known environmental author Bill McKibben. It was coined 350.org, with the slogan “350 is the most important number on the planet”. The figure refers to a target concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere, in parts per million (ppm). This number was drawn from a recent study by a team of climate scientists, led by NASA’s Dr James Hansen … But there is another, more surprising, problem with 350. It’s the wrong number. While 350 ppm should give us a reasonable shot at avoiding more than two degrees of warming, that’s hardly a safe future to be aiming for. We need only to look at the impacts at less than one degree to know we’re already committed to some tough adaptation problems … A target of 300 to 325 ppm CO2 – the levels of the 1950s – is necessary if we wish to cut additional warming and start to roll back the already damaging impacts. As such, 350 is not a target, it’s a signpost to a goal. So we’re aiming at 350 but the real goal is 300 and we’re already at 385”.
4. Part of a statement prepared by Dr Barrie Pittock (former leader, Climate Impact Group, CSIRO, IPCC Lead Author, and author of Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat), and Dr Andrew Glikson (Earth and paleoclimate research scientist, former Principal Research Scientist, AGSO; Visiting Fellow, Australian National University), and endorsed by 40 leading Australian environment scientists: “Australia to make every effort through its own and international actions to prevent CO2 — equivalent levels from rising above 450 ppm and global warming from rising above 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial temperatures, as is the European target. Further reduction of CO2 levels to 300-350 ppm may be required to have a reasonable probability of restoring a safe climate.”
5. Australia’s premier research organization, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO): “Since the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 concentrations have risen 37%, methane 150% and nitrous oxide 18%. The global increases in CO2 concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while the increases in methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture. The CO2 concentration in 2008 of 383 parts per million (ppm) is much higher than the natural range of 172 to 300 ppm that existed over the last 800,000 years.”
6. Dr Graeme Pearman (former CSIRO Climate director; GP Consulting; interim director, MSI; Monash University Sustainability Group, Melbourne), “The Earth is deglaciating. Since 1979, more than 20% of the Polar Ice Cap has melted away … Over the last century: global temperatures risen by 0.74 +/- 0.18oC; 11 of last 12 years rank as amongst the 12 warmest years; snow cover decreased in most regions, especially in spring and summer; summer period extended 12.3 days … Arctic sea-ice decline of 2.7 +/- 0.6 per cent per decade; sea ;levels have risen at a rate of: 1961-2003 1.9 +/- 0.5 mm yr-1, 1900-2000 1.7 +/- 0.5 mm yr-1; ocean acidification 0.1 pH unit so far … Gases: current carbon dioxide and methane concentrations far exceed those of the last 600,000 years; increases primarily due to fossil fuel use, agriculture and land-use changes.”
7. Statement by the technical working group on coral, The Royal Society on 6th July 2009 (including as Working group signatories Professor John Veron (Coral Reef Research), Dr Mary Stafford-Smith (Coral Reef Research), Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (University of Queensland) and Sir David Attenborough FRS and 20 other eminent scientists): “The Earth’s atmospheric CO2 level must be returned to <350ppm to reverse this escalating ecological crisis and to 320ppm to ensure permanent planetary health. Actions to achieve this must be taken urgently. The commonly mooted best case target of 450ppm and a time frame reaching to 2050 will plunge the Earth into an environmental state that has not occurred in millions of years and from which there will be no recovery for coral reefs and for many other natural systems on which humanity depends.”
8. Statement by the World’s top climate scientists including Professors James Hansen (US), Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (Germany) , Paul Crutzen (Netherlands Nobel Laureate for discovering the ozone hole chemistry), in the top scientific journal Nature that atmospheric CO2 must NOT exceed 350 ppm (September 2009): “Our proposed climate boundary is based on two critical thresholds that separate qualitatively different climate-system states. It has two parameters: atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and radiative forcing (the rate of energy change per unit area of the globe as measured at the top of the atmosphere). We propose that human changes to atmospheric CO2 concentrations should not exceed 350 parts per million by volume, and that radiative forcing should not exceed 1 watt per square metre above pre-industrial levels. Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea-level rise and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems. Current CO2 concentration stands at 387 p.p.m.v. and the change in radiative forcing is 1.5 W m-2 .”
9. Dr Andrew Glikson (an Earth and paleo-climate research scientist at Australian National University, Canberra, Australia) (2009): “For some time now, climate scientists warned that melting of subpolar permafrost and warming of the Arctic Sea (up to 4 degrees C during 2005–2008 relative to the 1951–1980) are likely to result in the dissociation of methane hydrates and the release of this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (methane: 62 times the infrared warming effect of CO2 over 20 years and 21 times over 100 years)
… The amount of carbon stored in Arctic sediments and permafrost is estimated as 500–2500 Gigaton Carbon (GtC), as compared with the world’s total fossil fuel reserves estimated as 5000 GtC. Compare with the 700 GtC of the atmosphere, which regulate CO2 levels in the range of 180–300 parts per million and land temperatures in a range of about – 50 to + 50 degrees C, which allowed the evolution of warm blooded mammals. The continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for industrial pollution has already added some 305 GtC to the atmosphere together with land clearing and animal-emitted methane.
This raised CO2 levels to 387 ppm CO2 to date, leading toward conditions which existed on Earth about 3 million years (Ma) ago (mid-Pliocene), when CO2 levels rose to about 400 ppm, temperatures to about 2–3 degrees C and sea levels by about 25 +/- 12 metres. There is little evidence for an extinction at 3 Ma. However, by crossing above a CO2 level of 400 ppm the atmosphere is moving into uncharted territory. At this stage, enhanced methane leaks threaten climate events, such as the massive methane release and fauna extinction of 55 million years ago, which was marked by rise of CO2 to near-1000 ppm.”
On the eve of 350 Day, 2009, Dr Andrew Glikson (after whom the Glikson Crater in Western Australia is named) issued the following dire warning: “THE RISE OF ATMOSPHERIC CO2 ABOVE 350 PPM AT THE CURRENT RATE OF ABOUT 2 PPM/YEAR IS TRANSCENDING THE CONDITIONS THAT ALLOWED THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN AGRICULTURE AND CIVILIZATION FROM ABOUT 8000 YEARS AGO… In the view of leading climate scientists there is no alternative to attempts at reducing atmospheric CO2 levels to below 350 ppm as soon as possible. What is urgently required is a combination of (A) urgent deep cuts in carbon emissions; (B) fast-track development of clean renewable energy systems; © an intensive global reforestation campaign; (D) application of a range of CO2 draw-down sequestration measures” (see “350 ppm CO2: the upper limits of human habitats”, Countercurrents ).
What can decent people do in the face of looming Climate Catastrophe and Climate Genocide due to First World intransigence? All we can do is (1) to inform everyone we can and (2) apply Sanctions and Boycotts against the worst climate criminal corporations and countries.
Who are the worst climate criminals? “Annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year” (2005-2008 data) provides a good measure of relative climate criminality and is is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; or 54 if Australia’s huge Exported CO2 pollution is included (see Wikipedia, “List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita” ; see also “Climate justice and climate injustice: Australia wants an 2020 annual per capita : GHG pollution 15 times greater than Developing World’s” ).
As Climate Genocide worsens with 10 billion non-European deaths threatened this century, there should be no place to hide on this Planet for the politician and corporate climate criminals – they are truly climate racists and climate terrorists of the most appalling kind.