Crying For Our Children Over Climate Change

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As my husband and I read aloud to each other at dinner last Friday the news that a big symbolic global warming milestone had been passed, his eyes filled with tears and I cried outright.

It was 25 years ago that he and I, working together at an environment-energy information office in the Congress, first learned about how we humans — doing such basic things as heating our homes and driving our cars — might change our little planet in ways unknown.

Sunset on power plant, Image Credit: Shutterstock

My husband and I read on Friday that the level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed 400 parts per million, a concentration not seen on Earth for millions of years.

Carbon dioxide that's emitted, from, for example, power plants and cars stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

When my husband and I started working on this issue back in 1987, the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 350 parts per million. (And that was up from 315 parts per million in the late 1950s. It's estimated that the level before the Industrial Revolution was about 280 parts per million.)

But why does this milestone matter?

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” Pieter Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading, told The New York Times.

Advocates in the 1980s talked about making changes in areas like energy efficiency that would benefit the planet even if climate theory turned out to be wrong. Those changes would be an "insurance policy," they said.

And some of those things have happened.

But overall, because coal and oil use is so fundamental to our lives, making changes has been extremely hard.

And even though we're all in this together — even the 1 percent won't be able to escape the effects of climate change — the issue has become politicized.

While the vast majority of scientists agree on the climate change threat, a few contrarians have enabled lawmakers like Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to say "the supposed threat of global warming constitutes the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

President George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol. He objected to the exemption from the treaty of developing countries, specifically China and India, and said the protocol would harm the U.S. economy.

When Kyoto was negotiated, its controls were applied only to industrialized countries, because they had caused the climate problem.

But by 2008, China was the top carbon dioxide emitter, the United States was second and India was third.

China, India and other countries want to industrialize like we did, complicating international action further.

Meanwhile, EPA says climate change is happening and humans are largely responsible.

We're already seeing hotter temperatures and all kinds of unprecedented wild storms that scientists say are what we should continue to expect. The Arctic is melting, sea levels are rising and plant and animal ranges are shifting.

To my daughter and to your children, all I can say is I am sorry.

When the environmental movement got started in the late 60's and early 70's, people wondered whether it was too late for polluted air and water to recover. It wasn't.

Now the question is whether we will act too late on climate change.

There are many things we can do to prevent changes that aren't already locked in.

EPA has put together tips on what you can at home, at school, in the office, and on the road to reduce your carbon footprint (while saving money and the Earth's resources at the same time!).

And the point of my Citizen Cartwright blog is that, despite the power of big money and big lobbying, the government ultimately does what the people demand.

In the end, the future is up to each of us.


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