Dr. James Hansen, who for decades led NASA’s most important climatology work, has often remarked that rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels will end the conditions in which civilization flourished — relatively stable weather patterns and cycles. CO2, along with water vapor, methane, and other emissions generated by industry, traps solar heat within the atmosphere. Hansen argues that we can bring our ancestors’ enviable conditions back for future generations by reducing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to less than 350 parts per million (before the Industrial Revolution it was about 275 ppm). One of the world’s most important CO2 monitoring stations, located in Hawaii, has detected average CO2 levels of 400 ppm.
Jansen’s not alone in his alarm. A consensus of scientists attributes severe and erratic conditions, from fires to floods in different regions, to the “greenhouse effect” of greater atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The oceans are straining too, absorbing so much CO2 that they are becoming too acidic for shellfish and corals to thrive. Hansen’s solution is simple but requires discipline and creativity: knock back human industrial and agricultural production of CO2 through better practices, especially in the production and conservation of energy.
All points of the Earth benefit from our decisions to conserve energy and to develop new sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and small hydro.