Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author, and founder of 350.org, took the stage in Mumbai yesterday and stated in measured but forceful words that strong, powerful action needs to be taken very, very quickly if we want to maintain the climate we are accustomed to.
He encouraged participation in the International Day of Climate Action, which will be observed on 24 October 2009 and is being organised by 350.org. The number 350 comes from a Nasa study that found a level of carbon dioxide (CO2) of 350 parts per million (ppm) to be the upper limit that the atmosphere can safely sustain if the earth's climate is to remain substantially similar to the one we are used to and which supports life and civilisation.
The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 390 ppm and rising by 2 ppm per year. The pre-Industrial Revolution level was 275 ppm.
Each summer in the Arctic, an area of ice the size of California melts away due to global warming. There is now 25 per cent less ice in the Arctic than there has been at any point in over a million years. McKibben related the projection that the sea level is expected to rise between one half and two metres by the end of the century to the fact that much of the Maldives is less than two metres above sea level. That country's government has even instituted a fund to relocate its citizens in the event their current lands are submerged by the rising sea.
The International Day of Climate Action will arrive six weeks ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, later this year. The Copenhagen conference is being seen as the successor to the Kyoto climate change conference. The hope is that worldwide demonstrations that centre on the number 350 will draw the attention of the media and of world leaders as they prepare for Copenhagen.
McKibben contracted dengue fever when in Bangladesh several years ago. As he sat in a hospital bed, surrounded by Bangladeshis suffering and dying from the same condition, he was struck by how fundamentally unfair the problem of climate change is, as the people who suffer the most are those who have contributed the least to the problem. People in developing nations in the tropical and subtropical belts will be the most significantly affected even though their carbon footprints are negligible.