NOAA Warns Record High Levels of CO2 in the Atmosphere

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Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org, says record-setting CO2 levels of 400 parts-per-million are ominous, as we have not seen these levels for millions of years.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, announced that the world has hit a grim benchmark. March was the first month to surpass global carbon dioxide levels of 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began. With us to discuss the significance of the milestone is Jamie Henn. Jamie is strategy and communications director and co-founder of 350.org.

Jamie, thank you so much for joining us.

JAMIE HENN, CO-FOUNDER, 350.ORG: Well, it’s good to be with you.

PERIES: So Jamie, I understand that this level of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere had already been hit in 2012. But tell us about the significance of this most recent report from NOAA.

HENN: Well, it’s certainly significant, and it’s rather ominous, I’m afraid. What happens is around the world, various weather stations take measurements of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So last year in the Arctic, we passed 400 parts per million. But this reading is the global average. And for the first time in the month of March, global averages of carbon dioxide concentrations passed 400 parts per million.

This is significant not just because it’s a round number, but because it’s higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere than we’ve seen for millions upon millions of years. 350.org is named after what scientists say is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide concentrations, which is 350 parts per million. 400 is far into the danger zone. So it’s another clear warning, and serious warning, that we need to quickly move in a different direction.

PERIES: So Jamie, clarify for us, we often talk about 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise as being one of the benchmarks. Why, what’s the comparison, and why is this particular measurement we should be looking out for?

HENN: Yeah, leave it to environmentalists and scientists to come out with many confusing numbers to explain a problem. Carbon dioxide concentrations correspond with temperatures in the atmosphere. And so we see a correlation between the two, although there are many different factors that go into the exact temperature reading. Most scientists say that 450 parts per million roughly corresponds with the 2 degrees temperature rise. There’s some debate about that. Some people think that the climate system is more sensitive. But what we’re seeing is that we really need to begin to take this serious action, or temperatures will continue to grow.

So this is a benchmark that says we’re getting close to that 2 degrees threshold, but we’re already seeing real dangers from climate change happening around the world.

PERIES: Jamie, I know you are a big fan and a supporter, as 350 is, of divesting from fossil fuels. And I understand that the Bank of America just made an announcement about that. Can you tell us more?

HENN: Yeah. Well, just this week Bank of America committed, after many years of campaigning from a variety of groups really led by a group called the Rainforest Action Network, that they’d be pulling out their direct funding of coal mining. This isn’t all the investments they have in dirty energy. Bank of America certainly needs to do more. But it’s a very significant step forward for that bank.

I think the logic of climate change and the need for divestment is beginning to sink in. From the Church of England that just recently announced they would be divesting from coal and tar sands, to Syracuse University here in New York State that just divested from all fossil fuels, institutions are beginning to realize that with the science on the table, with these benchmarks like 400 parts per million coming out, something more drastic needs to be done. So it’s promising to see these signs. It’s certainly not enough. There’s much more that governments in particular need to be doing. But it’s good to see this movement really rising to the occasion.

PERIES: Now, what I have noticed in the last couple of years that we have been almost daily reporting on the climate change issue, almost every week there’s a significant report that comes out. You know, just alarm bells are ringing, trying to call the attention of the [world’s], and of those who have decision-making power. One study after another telling us that we’ve reached a peak. And so in terms of this finding today in NOAA, and of course a government agency like NOAA coming out with this, what can we–first of all, is NOAA doing anything with the private sector, or are we to take up these studies and do the advocacy necessary? Is NOAA actually doing anything within government about this?

HENN: Well, that’s a good question, actually. I mean, I think that we’ve seen various arms of the U.S. government, and especially scientists and research institutions begin to really be much more vocal about the need for action, not just putting out research and saying take it or leave it. Do what you will. But saying this is a clarion call, this is a clear marker for action.

So I think we’re seeing that more and more from scientists. Really pushing within their institutions, within government, to urge for much more. We were speaking about divestment. Just recently a very large association of scientists came out in favor of divestment, and wrote to the Guardian newspaper, which has been doing quite a bit of coverage about this, supporting the campaign that the Guardian’s been doing to get large foundations to divest.

So we are seeing more action. But you’re exactly right. Ultimately it’s up to citizens and up to groups like 350 and others to try and really take this research and turn it into action. We’ve known about the climate threat for decades and haven’t taken the steps necessary. We don’t really lack scientific research or lack the solutions for that. We need, what we lack is the political will. So the real test of this 400 parts per million benchmark is not whether it gets the scientific community up in arms, but whether it actually translates into the type of public pressure that’s needed to make some real progress.

PERIES: Jamie Henn with 350.org. I appreciate you keeping us briefed of the urgency of the climate change crisis at hand. Thank you for joining us.

HENN: Always good to be with you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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