Climate Change by the Numbers
Anthropogenic Global Warming
History in the Making
On May 10, 2013, the climatology labs at Mauna Lao in Hawaii measured carbon dioxide levels that exceeded 400 parts-per-million (ppm) — the first time that such levels had been reached in several million years. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have accelerated rapidly in the past few decades, and reaching the 400-ppm milestone was a sobering reminder of the course we have currently set for our planet.
Why CO2 Matters
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary gas responsible for the “greenhouse effect,” the natural occurrence in which atmospheric gases allow the sun’s energy to reach the Earth’s surface, but then prevent that energy from escaping back into space. The term comes from the similar phenomenon that takes place in greenhouses, in which the glass panes allow light and energy in, but prevent that energy from escaping as heat. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more heat that gets trapped. Increasing global temperatures cause extreme and unpredictable weather patters, widespread desertification, poor air quality, and rising sea levels from the melting of the polar ice caps.
An Unrecognizable World
A planet with more than 350 ppm CO2 is not the planet that we’ve known in the past century. In fact, it’s like no planet ever experienced in the entire history of humanity. Instead, it would more closely resemble an entirely different geological period: the Pliocene era, between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago. Temperatures were 4 to 5º F higher, and sea levels were at least thirty feet higher than they are today. Should sea levels return to such levels, more than a quarter of the United States’ population would be displaced.
And an Uncertain Future
The primary difference between today’s climate and that of the Pliocene? 2.6 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels were high — but they were on their way down. The Pliocene marked the last period of global warmth before the gradual onset of the Ice Age, which resulted in the formation of the ice caps. Today, however, carbon dioxide levels are not only extremely high, but they are still rising. The planet may have seen 400 ppm before, but it’s never seen 450 ppm. And if current trends continue, we’ll hit 450 ppm in a matter of mere years. The fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know what a planet at 450 ppm will look like.
You Can Help Save the Planet
Simplify Your Lifestyle
Anything that you can do to conserve power ultimately results in less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So, raise your thermostat in the summer and lower it in the winter. When you do run your AC or heater, make sure all windows and doors are closed. See if there are any ways to better insulate your home. Turn off lights when they’re not in use. Don’t leave devices plugged into outlets unnecessarily. Ride a bike, walk, carpool, or consider using public transportation to get to and from your destinations. Take shorter showers. Turns out all of these things will help keep money in your wallet, too.
Be the Example
Be the voice in your community to let others know of the importance of climate change. Initiate a green program at your school, workplace, library, or even at your home. Share environmental news and actions on social media so your peers and friends will get inspired, too. All the little things you do to help will add up. We won’t see an overnight change, but the more that we can do to spread the word of the importance of a return to 350 ppm, the greater our chances of preserving our planet as the Earth that we’ve come to love.
Support Clean Energy
This is the number one most important thing that we as a society need to do to get back on track for 350 ppm. We need to take large-scale steps towards converting our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable sources. So get involved. Let your local leaders know that you care about the environment, and elect public officials who will listen and act progressively. That means advocating for policies and initiatives that encourage solar and wind power innovations. It’s the way of the future, so let’s work together to let go of the past and move forward.
Invest in Things that Matter
In case you haven’t already heard, Vara Loka donates 20% of revenue from our Climate Change collection to 350.org. 350 is an international environmental organization inspiring citizens into action via grassroots activism. 350’s goal is to decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 400 ppm to 350 ppm, and they aim to do so through huge gatherings across the planet.
After first forming in 2008, 350 started organizing coordinated days of action that linked activists and organizations around the world. They led the International Day of Climate Action in 2009, the Global Work Party in 2010, Moving Planet in 2011, and Climate Impacts Day in 2012. They also boast of holding “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Click here to watch some videos of these global mobilizations.
350 works in over 188 countries on campaigns like fighting coal power plants in India and divesting public institutions everywhere from fossil fuels. Their most recent major success came on November 6, 2008 when U.S. President Barack Obama executively rejected the Keystone XL pipeline after years of immense pressure by 350. By leveraging the power of the people, the 350 movement disestablishes the influence of the fossil fuel industry and develops people-centric solutions to the climate crisis.