The United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 7-18. While most of the world’s population may not see climate change as a top global problem, the earth continues to be damaged by the physics and chemistry of our alteration of the atmosphere by our own activities.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941, as a day that would “live in infamy.” Future generations could say the same thing about December 7, 2009 if the conference in Copenhagen fails to set a deadline for a legally binding document.
So how bad is it? It’s like that old science project where a frog is placed in a pot of water and the flame under it ever so slowly turned up–except we are the ones in the pot.
Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.74°C since the late 19th century. The trend for the past 50 years, an increase of about 0.13°C per decade, is nearly twice that for the past 100 years. Seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.
A measurement called the “atmospheric concentration of CO2” is a helpful tool in understanding what is going on. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, earth’s CO2 concentration was around 280 ppm (parts per million). In 1958, this level was 315 ppm. In April 2009, global CO2 reached 387 ppm and was projected to reach 866 ppm by century’s end if unchecked.
A NASA team of scientists has warned that a world of 450 ppm CO2would be a world that is ice free.
In the summer of 2007, the Arctic melted with sudden and unexpected haste, 30 years ahead of what even the more pessimistic scientists had forecast. A recent study predicts a 50% chance that Lake Mead (which sits behind the Hoover Dam) will dry up in about 12 years. 4 Do we really want to imagine our planet at higher levels of CO2?
It can, and likely will, get worse. If the nations of the earth fail to reach an agreement in Copenhagen, future generations will suffer and perhaps see December 7 as a date that predicted our planet’s ruin.
Contact your elected officials and tell them you care about climate change!
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice, Women of the ELCA.