Strength in Numbers

By McKibben, Bill | Newsweek, September 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Strength in Numbers


McKibben, Bill, Newsweek


Byline: Bill McKibben

As a young environmentalist, I fought global warming with words, writing what's often called the first general-interest volume on climate change. It became an international bestseller, published in 24 languages. But it flopped as a piece of social activism, doing virtually nothing to slow the heating of the -planet. So, two decades later, I'm promoting something new: the number 350.

That's the upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (measured in parts per million). Anything above it, say some NASA scientists, is incompatible with "the planet on which civilization developed." When I first heard this, in 2008, I figured the idea of heat-trapping particles would be too obscure for most people--until I remembered my cholesterol number. I don't need to understand the lipid system to know that if my cholesterol count gets too high, I've got to lay off the chocolate cake. Today our atmosphere is at 392, which helps explain the hottest summer in history, the fires in Russia, and the floods in Pakistan. Clearly, it's time to change our habits.

But so far we're not even trying. This summer Congress gave up on comprehensive climate reform, and I doubt we'll see another legislative effort for at least two years, given the way the elections are projected to unfold in November. Without the U.S., international agreements are also probably entering an ice age. …

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