How long will it take to reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to the recommended maximum of 350 parts per million?



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    Good question. I don’t think anybody knows. According to an eerily ominous “world climate speedometer” developed by British author Peter Russell, we’re already at 385 ppm (parts per million) and continuing to increase. The goal of 350 ppm was proposed in early 2008 by leading NASA climatologist James Hansen as an initial baseline for carbon emissions if we want to continue to live in a world with conditions similar to those in which life has traditionally been sustained. Keep in mind that this is an initial target–not the final one. Hansen’s 2008 paper also stated that if we want to get back to the same level of sea ice that we had 20-25 years ago, we need to reduce carbon even further, down to possibly 300 ppm. How long will it take us to get there? That depends on how quickly the major emitters can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which itself depends on what they’re doing to control them. Right now it doesn’t appear that we’re doing very much. The major players in climate change couldn’t even agree on binding emissions targets at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, much less some scheme to implement those reductions. In the United States we have only begun to create the regulatory framework to regulate CO2 emissions at all. Until we get some real reductions in place–which is going to cause significant economic pain in the short term–I don’t know if we can say that we can reduce CO2 to 350 ppm any time in the near future.

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