We've passed 400ppm: now what?

Date 23rd May 2013

You've probably heard the appalling news that, for the first time in human history, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has just passed 400 parts per million. (Eh? Scientific America's explanation here).  It's been 2.5 million years since CO2 was last at this level - at which point, temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees C higher, the Arctic was ice-free, global weather patterns were completely different, sea levels were up to 40 metres higher and humans did not live on the planet. 

Which means that we are heading for an even worse scenario than the one we depicted in The Age of Stupid: Africa uninhabitable, continental Europe mostly desert, Australia's agricultural system destroyed, hundreds of major cities underwater, hundreds of millions of people dead and many more on the move. Possibly within my lifetime (born 1972, hoping to live to 2062), but almost certainly within my daughter Eva's (born 2012, hoping to live to 2102).

New Orleans in 2055



Scientists (proper ones, not oil-industry sponsored) have calculated the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be 350 parts per million (hence the campaign, 350.org, see their video explanation here). The last time we were in this safe zone was October 1988, which itself was a long way passed the 280ppm we were at when we started seriously burning fossil fuels at the beginning of industrialisation. To get back to safety at 350ppm, we need nothing less than a "transformation to a low-carbon economy for the entirety of human civilisation", as Mark Lynas says in Age of Stupid, which is "obviously a huge, monumental task, probably the greatest that humanity has ever faced. ". 

So what the hell are we all going to do now?

-> Should we pile on the pressure to the UN, in the hope that politicians defy all expectations and finally make the international agreement needed to bring global emissions down extremely quickly?  
-> Should we start a National Strike, bringing the country to a standstill until the Government goes onto a war footing on climate change?  
-> Should we go into survivalist mode, buying up guns and fortifying our homes? It sounds extreme, but it's not a coincidence that some people working on climate change are buying pieces of land far away from centres of population to move their families
-> Should we party party party now, flying all round the world gorging on fossil fuels, pretending we don't know it's happening?
-> Should we take the moral high ground and continue to cut our own emissions, despite knowing it will make F-all difference? 
-> Should we transfer all our assets into geo-engineering, on the miniscule off-chance that someone will come up with a tech fix in time? 
-> Should we leave our jobs and devote our working lives to building a new political movement to take over when this one inevitably collapses in the face of the catastrophe it did nothing to stop?
-> Should we join our local Transition Towns, working together to build resilience into our communities, despite it being hard to see what difference that could make when continental Europe becomes a desert and 700 million people start heading north?
-> Should we stockpile cyanide? You think I'm exaggerating, but a close friend of mine, who has four children, said she plans to kill herself and them when it comes to it.

I am extremely interested to know what everyone is thinking and whether anyone sees any positive ways forward... Please add a comment below.  

Yours in despair, 


NB Comments will be moderated before being added below. This debate is also on Facebook here and on Twitter via @frannyarmstrong