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May 10, 2013 4:13 PM Just Another Sleepy Friday Afternoon

By Ed Kilgore

It’s a sad sign of how we consume news these days that this item from Justin Gillis of the New York Times will probably get buried on a sleepy Friday afternoon after we’ve been been deluged with Benghazi! stories all week:

The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported on Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.
Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.
The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.
Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.

I wish those who read and discard such reports because someone has told them 5% of scientists don’t agree with them would focus on this word catastrophic. If the 5% turn out to be right and carbon emissions aren’t as big a deal as the majority of scientists claim, and we listen to the 95% and take action, the worst consequences might be a modest rise in energy prices. That would not be any fun, particularly in today’s era of perpetually slow growth, high unemployment, and rampant inequality, and adjustment to new energy sources would take a while. But if we do nothing and the 5% are wrong, the consequences could be catastrophic, which means something worse than most of us can imagine, much less “adjust” to. Indeed, it’s all so difficult to grasp that it’s easier to turn the page and read and think about something else, again and again and again.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Peter C on May 10, 2013 4:20 PM:

    Maybe if we all chant "Drill, baby, DRILL!" then God will take care of it. That's the Republican plan, afterall.

  • boatboy_srq on May 10, 2013 4:31 PM:

    Today's GOTea: burning their grandkids' inheritance, just like the bumper sticker on the SUV says.

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2013 4:35 PM:

    CONSERVATIVE POV:

    Hey, the DOW's up, our 401K's are up!

    Why mess with success?

    Look at it this way - your home heating bill will decrease, to the same as your air-conditioning bill will increase.
    So, what your problem, Libtards?

  • advocatethis on May 10, 2013 4:53 PM:

  • Mimikatz on May 10, 2013 5:07 PM:

    No amount of wishful thinking is going to alter the physics of this situation. CO2 in the atmosphere acts to trap some of the heat that reaches us from the sun. We need some of this heat to be trapped to create a climate hospitable to humans. But if too much CO2 gets into the atmosphere, too much heat is trapped and the Earth warms. It has been warming since the start if the industrial revolution, as the CO2 concentration went up. CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to affect the climate for centuries, because it dissipates so slowly. CO2 now in the atmosphere will cause the temperature to rise into the 22nd and 23rd centuries. We are now looking at about a 4 degree C rise and a 9 degree F rise in average ambient temperatures in this century and at that level ice sheets destabilize, sea levels rise many meters on the coasts where pant of the world's people live, crops can't germinate, temperate glaciers that supply water to many cities will melt and live will generally become very, very difficult for those who are left.

    True, people have cried wolf before, but these predictions have been around since the 1970s and the consequences of climate change are actually coming faster than predicted, not receding. Everyone born after 1970 is likely to live to midcentury, when these effects will be undeniable and critical, and today's children will be living in conditions that are going to be much worse.

    Maybe when CO2 passes 500 ppm in another couple of decades people will begin to notice, but by then it will be way too late.

  • JackD on May 10, 2013 5:16 PM:

    Doesn't matter; Jesus is comin' back and the world's gonna end anyway.

  • Christiaan Hofman on May 10, 2013 5:41 PM:

    Actually, it's not that hard to imagine, as there have been several movies made about the type of world it could result in. Unfortunately, most people consider those entertainment rather than real possibilities.

  • Jack G on May 10, 2013 6:41 PM:

    I you really want to lose sleep, you can read about the destabilizing methane clathrate off the East Coast and in the arctic.
    With CO2 we are seeing a slow motion catastrophe, but if the ocean methane (scientists call it the clathrate gun) starts to go, things could go downhill very quickly.