Climate call to action! Ted McIntrye's speech 10/24/09

Thanks to you all for taking time from your busy Saturday to come here. But busy as we all are, you are right to MAKE the time to be here, because fighting climate change is the most important job we all have.  

We are here today to join our voices in a call for strong and urgent action against climate change. And believe me our leaders will listen when we make some noise!   

How many of you want to stop global warming?  (yay)

And when do want to stop it? (now)

And we are not alone in making noise. At more than 4000 other rallies in 170 countries around the world other people are doing the same thing as we are.

Please listen carefully, because in a few minutes, we will discuss some very specific things you can do to make even more noise when you get home.

Many of you are well aware of the threat posed by climate change. Most of you know that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is increasing, because we human are burning gas, coal and oil to generate our energy.  You know that the extra carbon dioxide we have added to the air is capturing extra sunlight and that this extra heat is already warming the planet 

  • disrupting our weather patterns, 
  • melting glaciers, 
  • causing drought and 
  • fueling more intense storms.  
You know that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide, our children and grandchildren will face a world of less food, less clean water, flooded metropolises and new diseases.  

Fighting climate change now is an immediate moral imperative, because the decisions we make in the next 2 or 3 years, indeed in the next two or three months!

  • decisions about how we will heat our homes, 
  • what cars we will drive 
  • what food we will eat- and most importantly
  • whether we will speak out at the critical moment 
These decision will profoundly and irreversibly affect the lives our children lead in the year 2050.  

Let’s think about what makes up the air. Air is about 78% nitrogen, and  21% oxygen. The element argon is about 1%, and then there are small amounts various gases that make up the rest. Carbon dioxide is one of those, a small but important component of the air.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the amount of CO2 in the air was only 278 ‘parts per million’ (ppm is a kind of percentage and 278 ppm is about ¼ of one tenth of a percent), When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, that 278 ppm of CO2 had been constant for about 10,000 years.  

Just think what that 10,000 years means. All human civilization, 
from Buddha to Beethoven, 
from the cave men to Shakespeare, 
from the Pharohs to the Parthenon to the British Parliament, 
developed in a relatively mild earthly climate supported by a constant level of 278ppm of CO2.

Today,  a mere 200 years into the industrial revolution, the level of CO2 is about 387, and increasing 2ppm each year. And if we do nothing, by the end of this century  we could be way up at 550. The increase in the CO2 amount has been sudden, large, and rising fast!

That number of possibly 550ppm by the end of the 21st C is interesting. When scientist first started doing computer models of climate change in the late 1980’s, 550  was double Thomas Jefferson’s ‘pre-industrial’ carbon level, was easy to use in computer models, and it was conveniently 100 years in the future.  

In the 1980s,  the computer models predicted that the arctic ice caps would melt late in the century. As more and more worrying information came in, scientist began to focus on using 450 PPM as the ‘dangerous level’ of CO2 in their computer models, and the results predicted the icecaps would melt in mid century around 2050. 

Then came 2007, and the summer time arctic polar ice cap  almost disappeared. 

Scientists were stunned. 

The new prediction is that the north pole might be ice free in the summer of 2012. Scientist’s original predictions were incorrect by a century. The predictions are coming to pass much earlier than expected! 

The message of today’s rally is that damaging climate change is happening much sooner than the scientists thought. It is happening now.  Glaciers around the world are melting. Storms are becoming more intense. Drought is ravishing Australia.

Jim Hansen, the famous NASA Scientist who was one of the first to recognize the reality of climate change, wrote a landmark paper in 2007. His team combined the results of computer models with evidence from a couple of million years ago, the last time the CO2 levels was above 350. They concluded that “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted…CO2 will need to be reduced….to at most 350ppm.” 

This is a very stark and scary statement…. If humanity wants to preserve a planet which life is adapted , the air must have less than 350ppm of CO2.
Wait a minute… didn’t we just say the air already has more than 387PPM? Almost to 390?  Can it be true that we are already almost 40 points past the level that supports civilization? Are you kidding me? 

NO… our current situation is dire!

These are sobering numbers, but put into perspective why we are here today. 

Today we need to talk about the most important number in the world.  
It has to be a number that affects everyone, for a long time and in a big way. 

350 is that number!

The most important number in the world is 350. It is so important I want you to say it back to me…. What is the most important number in the world? ……. 

Say it again!

350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—it's the number we need to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change 

Wow…that’s a big idea… Let me say it again, slowly!

350 is the number  that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—it's the number we need to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.

And we already passed the 350 mark in 1989!!!

What is a ‘safe upper limit’ for carbon? It is easiest to see by analogy to medicine, where everyone knows about their cholesterol level or their baby’s temperature.  When your baby’s temp goes over 98.6 into the danger zone, you have a crisis and will do whatever it takes to bring that time down. 
We're like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns his cholesterol is too high. He doesn't die immediately—but until he changes his lifestyle, throws out the cheez wiz and the French fries,  and gets back down to the safe zone, he's at more risk for heart attack or stroke. The planet is in its danger zone because we've poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we're starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back- to go on a carbon diet --as quickly as we can.

“350 is the safe upper limit to avoid ‘runaway climate change’”

What is ’run away’ climate change? Well, as we keep emitting CO2 into the air, we are essentially “driving blind”,  and setting up the conditions for events we cannot predict or control. We have put so much CO2 into the air that the frozen tundra in Siberia is melting and release methane.. or swamp gas. 

Now, methane gas is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. There is a lot of methane in the tundra in Siberia, way more than we humans release by driving cars.  It was hot in Siberia during 2007 and the level of this methane spiked. Play that forward in your head: when a hot summer in Siberia melts permafrost and releases methane, and that methane makes it hotter the next summer, which melts more permafrost and releases more methane, which make is it even hotter…. Well, it doesn’t take long to reach a ‘tipping point’ where human generated emissions become irrelevant, planetary forces start to release greenhouse gases on  their own and climate change becomes self sustaining. That is not a good scenario.  After that happens, it doesn’t matter what we humans do anymore. The climate has run away!

That is where we are- in the danger zone, almost 40 points above the safe limit. What can we do? 

We need to get back into the safe zone, below 350PPM as fast as we can. To do this, we need to lower our carbon emissions, dramatically. In order to get back into the safe zone, we need to transform the world’s economy away from the use of fossil fuel,  and begin generating megawatts of wind and solar power, as well as ‘nega-watt’ of energy efficiency.  Then the natural processes that take carbon out of the atmosphere can slowly do their work to bring us back into the safe zone.

How can we do this? The answer is simple, but not easy. 

ON a personal level, we can start this process by - taking responsibility for the carbon we produce.  Every light bulb, every gallon of hot water, every degree of heat, every mile of driving and every steak we eat generates CO2. We need to learn how to reduce these emissions in our personal lives. Use compact fluorescent lights, weatherize your home, buy clean energy. 

The Massachusetts Climate Action can teach you about the ‘low carbon diet’.    

Even more importantly, we need political action. 

What are the big political ideas that 350 forces us toward?

First: We must limit or “Cap” the amount of CO2 that America releases from burning fossil fuel. This is not so hard to do- but it involves putting a price on carbon.  Once we recognize and pay for the true cost of emitting CO2,  it will unleash the market to find newer, cleaner ways to generate and conserve energy, create jobs that cannot be outsourced and deny our enemies the steady flow of cash we send to unfriendly regimes.

Second:  We need an ambition, fair and binding international treaty to cap carbon at the global level. Europe, Japan, China, India all have enormous populations and different levels of development. We need to find a way to help the whole world develop using clean energy. This will take great leadership, the kind only the US can provide.

Now it just turns out that these big ideas have something behind them. 

Right now, in the US senate, there is a bill called the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act”, Which puts that all important price on carbon. It is referred to as the Kerry Boxer bill, after our own senator. This is a good bill, and needs our support.   It will create a market to generate clean energy, create jobs and improve our national security. But, it should come as no surprise, that some in congress want to weaken the bill. They want to take away the authority of the EPA to regulate carbon. We cannot let that happen. We want a strong bill that doesn’t muzzle the EPA.

But even more importantly, the passage of this bill demonstrates America’s commitment to fighting global warming. This is important because in December, in Copenhagen, a huge negotiation involving most of the countries of the world, will hammer out a global treaty to fight climate change. The Kerry Boxer bill will make the US a leader in these negotiations. We must hold our decision-makers accountable to producing a treaty that is strong, equitable, and grounded in the latest science, because while the nations of the world are talking to each other, the real deal will be made with the physics and chemistry of the planet. As you might remember from high school, chemistry problems don’t compromise!

And this is where we come in! We need to make some noise, to let the politicians know we are watching, and that we want action now. Are you ready to make noise?

Call your senator. It is easier than you think, and they are always very polite! They are impressed with phone calls, because it means you really care.

John Kerry’s number is 202-224-2742… Paul Kirks’  number is 202-224-4543.  Thank the senator for all his hard work, and tell him you support the climate bill. Tell him NOT to surrender the EPA’s right to regulate carbon. 

Call your congressman, Call the White House. Tell them you want a strong climate bill.

Call the white house, and tell them you want a strong climate bill. 

Here is cool thing you can do… call your friends and relatives in other states, especially in the mid-west, and urge them to call THEIR congressmen.

What is the most important number? 350

Do you want to stop global warming? (yay)

And when do want to stop it? (now)

Note: This was prepared by Ted McIntyre for his talk at the 350 event on 10/24/09. The talk was delivered by Steve Sherlock who stood in for Ted at the last minute.