In 2017, scientists for the first time spelled out what it will take for civilization to survive global warming. Simply ending the use of fossil fuels isn’t going to do it; we must also extract billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and store it somewhere forever. The world has been edging toward this momentous conclusion for a long time, but in 2017, scientists finally laid out the details.
At least as early as 2001, a few scientists started saying atmospheric CO2 could not safely exceed 350 parts per million for very long. The world snoozed. Then, in October 2009, huge, noisy crowds of young people jammed the streets in 4,300 synchronized demonstrations in 188 countries, to publicize 350 parts per million (ppm) as a climate goal. The world began to wake up.
Now, thanks to climate activists (and many scientists), the 350 goal is firmly fixed on the global agenda. However, few people still have any real idea what it will take to achieve 350. In 2017, though, climate godfather James Hansen and his colleagues laid it out for us.
From 1981 to 2013, Hansen was director and chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In 1988, it was Hansen who first told Congress that global warming was upon us. Some scientists scoffed, but today all the world’s major scientific organizations acknowledge that he was right. After another 20 years studying global warming, in 2008, Hansen published his disturbing conclusion that global warming promises “irreversible catastrophic effects” if we allow CO2 to exceed 350 ppm past the end of this century.
The natural amount of CO2 in the air is 280 ppm, but by 2016, it had risen to a dangerous 404 ppm because of humans burning coal, oil and natural gas. It’s now rising a…