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New Carbon Pollution Level Confirms We Have Entered the Era of Extreme Weather

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 20, 2013

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Scientists recently reported that the level of carbon in the atmosphere has passed 400 parts per million. Carbon pollution causes climate change, and many experts believe we need to bring this level down to 350 ppm in order to hold off the worst impacts of climate disruption. And yet we continue to march into the danger zone.

Already the signs are appearing in our communities. Climate change intensifies drought, storms, tidal surges, and heat waves, and these events have exacted a staggering price in the past few years.

Last June, a freak storm called a “derecho” left 22 dead and 5 million people without power from Illinois to Virginia. Another potent storm dumped up to 10 inches of rain in Minnesota and Wisconsin, causing $80 million to Duluth’s public infrastructure. July 2012 became the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States, and 123 deaths were directly tied to the high temperatures. The heat dried out soil across the nation and contributed to the worst drought in 50 years. More than 2,000 counties were declared drought disaster areas and U.S. farmers received $12 billion in insurance payments for crop damage. And all this occurred before Superstorm Sandy struck.

This is not the climate we were born into. Instead we have entered the era of extreme weather.

We have profoundly altered the planet’s chemistry, and if we do not heed the alarm sounded by 400 ppm, we will lock ourselves into more intense droughts, wildfires, and Superstorm Sandys.

Damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in Rockaway, Queens.

The good news is we know how to arrest this problem and reduce carbon pollution. We just need President Obama to lead our nation in the right direction. We need him to make a public commitment to climate action and move American down a cleaner energy path.

Here’s how it starts. The president can use existing authority to curb carbon from power plants—the largest source of U.S. global warming pollution. Last year he proposed limits on new power plants, and now he needs to finalize them. He must also propose limits for existing power plants. NRDC has outlined a flexible, cost-effective approach to these standards that would cut carbon pollution by 26 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels and generate between $25 and $60 billion in public health and climate benefits by 2020.

President Obama must also reject the use of the dirtiest fuels—the ones that pump the most carbon pollution into our atmosphere. Producing tar sands oil, for instance, generates three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as producing conventional crude. That’s why the president must reject the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

As the New York Times editorial board wrote over the weekend, hitting the 400 ppm level increases the pressure on President Obama to demonstrate leadership. I urge you to raise your voices and call on President Obama to respond to what the planet is telling us. We need bold actions in order to end the era of extreme weather and usher in a cleaner, more sustainable future for our children. And we need them now.


Photo credit: anique


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Tom DeanMay 20 2013 05:02 PM

I'm in...

Cheri ShankarMay 20 2013 06:57 PM

One thing that will make a huge impact that we can do right now, today, is to switch to a plant based diet. Animal Agriculture is unsustainable and even the United Nations recommends moving to a plant based diet to alleviate global warming and hunger. We can't all go out and buy an electric car today, but we can stop eating animal products which contribute to 20% of greenhouse gases!

James Singmaster, III, Ph>d.May 21 2013 02:41 AM

I challenge NRDC to support the only way to reverseCC/GW, and that is by MAKING THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE. The present proposals by NRDC and others to just curb CO2 still allows CO2 levels to rise worsening the situation. I have posted many comments on Switchboard on how to go energy and CO2 negative, but its leaders can't see that biowastes are a sustainability resource by using pyrolysis on them to remake coal(charcoal) that can be buried reversing burning. And you get a renewable fuel as BIOWASTES ARE FOREVER!!
I have posted many comments here and on other environment blogs statine that we are entering THE HYDROGEN AGE and can drop both nuclear and fossil fuel energy so that our children will have a clean energy future without all the pollution of today. HYDROGEN is a forever fuel gotten by splitting water using sun light and a catalyst that was reported in "Science", the magazine of the Amer. Assc. for Advance of Science, Dec.7, 2012, pgs1321-4. NRDC is wasting time and money of its donors on dead end proposals against fracking etc. instead of calling for viable forward going action of MAKING THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE
The upcoming Climate Summit in a week will be missing the boat as THE REAL ISSUE NEEDING A SUMMIT IS GETTING CLEAN ENERGY FROM THE SUN.
J. Singmaster, III, Ph.D., UCDavis, 75, Environmental Chemist, Ret.

Magnus AnderssonMay 21 2013 10:43 AM

No, 400 ppm CO2 doesn't confirm that. Quite the opposite, many researchers suggest, there will be less. See e.g. Prof. Chris Landsea (formerly responsible in IPCC) in a Youtube clip from a conference titled "Hurricanes and Global Warming: What Can the Observations Tell Us?".
Also check the data at NOAA! The numbers of severe storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes has actually become fewer the last decades.

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