Climate by Numbers

Climate by NumbersNumbers are important in creating climates for change. Especially countdowns and the notion of approaching limits. For instance the Y2K bug meme persuaded governments and businesses to take urgent action because of a countdown to 00:00:00:2000. There was a common understanding that at this time, if urgent precautions were not taken, computer clocks resetting could trigger effects in critical applications such as hospitals, nuclear power stations, bank records. (as many readers will know) takes the view that the ‘red line’ of climate safety is 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the number put forward by James Hansen, Director of the NASA Godard Institute (although he also says we really have no idea if anything above pre-industrial levels is ‘safe’). Hansen’s view is that we are in imminent danger of triggering runaway climate change due to positive feedback effects; where warming produces effects leading to further heating: ie tipping points – one study from the Potsdam Institute pointed to nine of these potentially being triggered in the next century.

Slightly worryingly we passed 350ppm in 1987 or so. Some runaway climate change effects, such as that associated with methane clathrate release (marsh gas released from Siberian permofrost due to warming), have been claimed (in a recent study published in nature) to have resulted in shifts of tens of degrees within decades in past geological eras. And there are some worrying signs on that front too.

All of which should be cause for URGENCY – the factor in human organisations (according to John Kotter’s recent book) which gets things done. And 24th October is one chance to spread the word (or in fact the number – 350) as it’s International Climate day of Action. Basically place the number 350 somewhere public, take a pic, and upload it to their site. And perhaps also chat to people around you about why you are doing this – spread the word. More details at

All part of the countdown to Cop15. But more importantly part of starting a tide of public opinion and motivation that can carry us beyond target setting to some urgent action. If you are busy on the 24th, are one of those I keep meeting who shy away from the more alarmist views on climate change, and/or want to commit to a sensible and serious series of personal actions next year then 10:10 is for you.

Posted by John Grant

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