Last Thursday the world officially reached 400ppm of CO2 . The next day I finished University.
I took my very last exam, finished, sat back and, looking up from the constant studying of the last few months, was confronted with the reality that we had just hit the historical 400ppm waypoint. When I started Uni in September 2010, the world stood at 390ppm of carbon, already way past the safe point of 350 and creeping up by a steady 2ppm per year. It’s now at 400ppm and rising at over 4ppm per year - twice as fast as when I started. That the bottom-line; the undisputable measure of the world’s progress toward tackling climate change over the last 3 years – we have taken no steps forward and several steps back.
400ppm is high. Last time there was this much carbon in the atmosphere, temperatures were 3-4˚C higher than today, sea level was 40m higher and humanity did not exist. The climate that 400ppm will leave us with is alien. Rather than the current climate in which we have evolved and thrived, 400ppm will result in something totally beyond our experience.
And yet strangely, there is no public outcry, no shocked headlines or outraged new coverage, no mass protest. No reaction on any scale that accurately reflects the real danger of our current situation. Instead most people are simply unconcerned or unaware, ignorant of the true significance CO2 having hit 400ppm so soon and with no signs of slowing.
It’s possible that in 20 years time, the 9th May will be a date more strongly etched into the public psyche than September 11th. Yet here and now, as it happens, there is barely a stir. In the midst of such indifference, it feels strangely isolating to still be reeling from the shock and fear of reaching 400ppm – or, more exactly, from the fear of reaching 400ppm and it still feeling like nobodys really noticed.
So as I finished Uni and went out to celebrate, ecstatic and over the moon to be done at long last, I couldn’t stop this number and the grim future it entails from rattling around at the back of my head. I have finished University just as it becomes startlingly evident that either we have no more time to waste or that we have already wasted our chance. It’s not yet possible to tell which it is for certain.
In this game of planetary Russian roulette, its more than possible we have already have fired the fatal shot. On the other hand, we might be right on the edge of too late but not yet actually over it. Given that the stakes involved included the future chances and choices of all of us, I will opt for the belief that, while time is shorter than ever, it has not yet quite run out. Optimistic though it maybe, naïve even, surely that is the only real option – I’m too young to give up on the future. Aside from everything else, it would make all the sweat and toil I put into finishing this degree a fairly pointless activity. If there is still even the smallest possibility that we have the time to get ourselves out of this mess, then how can we not give it everything we’ve got?
At this point, to shift the planet towards a different, brighter course, will take the full commitment and effort of all those involved in this crisis. And given that all those who will be affected by climate change, or who bear some responsibility for it, must count as involved, that would be every single one of us.
On the whole, as a species, we have yet to make any real concerted effort to stop ourselves from self-destructing. We have to change that, and we have to change it now.