Getting from from 385+ppm to 350ppm


Climate change says we should change
whereas peak oil says we will be forced to change.

-- Rob Hopkins


Here in the U.S., the film "An Inconvenient Truth" made awesome strides in informing the general public about the reality of global warming.  The April 2007 Step It Up campaign got people in 1,400 U.S. sites involved in activism.  This month's campaign  will advance public awareness in two ways:  Firstly, the Oct 2009 Day of Action is unfolding internationally, so it is an opportunity for citizens in non-U.S. countries to get involved, and secondly, it informs the general public about the target, the end goal.

350 is aptly being called "the most important number on the planet."  350 parts-per-million carbon dioxide concentration in the upper atmosphere is what NASA and Columbia University scientists say we must attain.  We're currently at 385ppm and climbing.  All these figures tell us that we'd better severely reduce our carbon emissions immediately, in order to have any hope of preserving the type of planetary climate upon which all life forms on the planet are dependent for survival.  (See the 350 animation.)

But how do we do it?

All of these programs -- "An Inconvenient Truth," Step It Up, -- are marvelous awareness-raisers.  However when it comes to solutions, they dodge the real answers. 

The "solutions" which rolled with the credits to "An Inconvenient Truth" are painfully inadequate when compared to the magnitude of the gap (385ppm vs 350ppm).  Changing to CFL bulbs is important, but it isn't nearly enough.

Step It Up and have been great awareness-raisers too.  But the predominant focus of both Step It Up and has been on rallies/demonstrations to get top-down legislation passed, not on any real, physical change. 

Ecophilosopher Joanna Macy describes three types of action required to achieve The Great Turning:

  • Holding action to slow down the destruction of life
  • Creating new structures
  • A shift in consciousness

"An Inconvenient Truth," Step It Up, and really only focus on Macy's action #1: "Holding action to slow down the destruction of life".  They simply don't have sufficient scope to address the other two.

It is very important, as people involved in the Transition movement, to realize how unique and how critical our movement is.  Transition has two aspects: inner Transition and outer Transition.  With Energy Descent Action Plans, local food events, setting up alternative currencies, and more, outer Transition begins to address Macy's action #2: "Creating new structures" within society.  Inner Transition -- a vital and important part of all that we do -- is Macy's action #3: "A shift in consciousness," a shift in our basic awareness of how humanity fits within the massive ecosystems of this planet. 

THIS is what it's going to take get from 385+ppm to 350ppm. Transition means both examining and working toward what it's really going to take to get our society reoriented so that the 350ppm goal is in any way possible.

Include Peak Oil

And Transition has another serious aspect to it that none of the others do: peak oil.  The Transition movement considers peak oil and climate change combined, because we will face the two simultaneously.  In many cases, the "solutions" that conventional approaches are proposing for global warming will be unattainable because we won't have the oil to bring these techno-dreams to reality.

In the quote at the beginning of this post, Rob Hopkins addresses the dicotomy of "should" versus "must."  We haven't made much progress on climate action, because with its long, slow lead time it's all still in the realm of "should."  We "should" change our lifestyles so that our grandchildren can survive.  But because it's only a "should" and not yet a "must," many people lapse into inaction:  "I'll do it when I have to."

But peak oil demands that we "must" change (and pretty fast, too!).  Fairly soon we're not going to be able to afford what's left of our planetary oil supply.  Knowing this, now is the time to plan, prepare, and take action to adapt.

Both peak oil and climate change tell us that, plain and simply, we must learn to live in ways which don't burn fossil fuels.  Neither "An Inconvenient Truth" nor happen to mention this.  But it is absolutely imperative for Transition initiatives working within our local communities to keep it at the forefront. 

Here's how:

1) When you show any film ("An Inconvenient Truth" or others), hold a community discussion afterward.  Remember that the film is just the excuse to gather the people but the real point of the gathering is to get people together, to get them talking, connecting and planning!  (See Hopkins p. 155 for great ideas)

2) At your local gatherings on Oct 24, be sure to include the topic of peak oil, and refer participants to your local Transition group for ongoing activities.  Perhaps you might modify 350's "10 Things" handout to include contact information for your local Transtion group.

3) If your group shows "An Inconvenient Truth," be sure to include peak oil, and offer real solutions.  Here's a peak oil short animation that you can show (3 minutes).  Real solutions are of course all three actions of Joanna Macy, which eventually boils down to the Transition process.

4) Any time your Transition initiative partners with other organizations (350, green business associations, etc.), bring them on board the Transition understanding:  teach them to consider both climate change and peak oil in their approach to public education as well as in their operations.

5) Walk the Talk.  Even as you advocate that people change their lifestyles, be changing your own.  Be an example to others.  Recall that Hopkins himself is offering us examples: years ago he quit flying, then more recently he and his family went car-free.  In addition to a rigorous speaking schedule, helping run an international organization, and contributing to the writing of several books, he has substantially upgraded the insulation in his home and he grows vegetables for his family.  You can do it too.  Always be adding new steps to your personal Transition journey, a little at a time. 


Michael McGee wrote 10 years 40 weeks ago

Must vs. Should

The quote and discussion of must vs. should stood out for me.  I think the discussion is on target when talking of what most people see and perceive right now as needed versus what is seen as desireable.  The peak oil "need" is all about preserving access the cheap energy to keep the global economy humming.   But the  need for preserve a stable climate is as much about life on earth, minimizing species extinctions and keeping the world a reasonably habitable place.   If we lose on the climate change front, we lose "hum" of an efficient global economy.   If energy prices rise and cause economic instability, that can cause all kinds of social and environmental problems, although not on the same scale as global warming of 2 or 3 or 4 degress C...or more....and remember that with warming and rising CO2 concentcentrations, we get a worsening of ocean acidification.   Rising CO2 and rising GHG concentrations are eroding the supports for life itself.  Economies are not a foundation for life; they are the transactions of those who are alive.   Some people, maybe even most people, may see peak oil as a more immediate need.   As I see it, we need to solve  both problems.  We need to move quickly to the post carbon future.  And while we are pursuing both aims, and while in some ways  it may be academic, it seems important to say that climate change is the bigger monster we NEED to deal with, relative to peak oil.   If I was to focus on one issue, it would be climate stabilization.  

After writing this, I reflected on Rob Hopkins quote.  It is an accurate quote in that we know that an energy crisis will force us away from fossil fuels.  When oil costs spike, people move quickly to substitutes, especially those that suddenly become economical relative to oil prices.    That is the market mechanism in action.   Climate change is a different kind of problem.    When  climate impacts get bad, it will be too late to stop recurrences.   Solving climate takes foresight and resolve to see that we must address that issue now so tomorrow is liveable and life remains rich and sustainable.   In that, we won't be forced to change because of climate.  Either way you slice it, we need to get close to zero emissions as soon as possible -- as individuals, communities, and so on. 

With respect to movies, I liked the discussion that followed screening I attended for The Age of Stupid.  The movie is well done, although not exactly inspirational.   An Inconvenient Truth is  brilliant in its ability to bring new understanding to a complex problem.   The "solutions" at the end were a bit soft.  A movie I would recommend is A Sea Change about the lesser-known problem of ocean  acidification.  This is a wonderful film about a terrible problem.  It does a better job of talking about solutions than The Age of Stupid of An Inconvenient Truth. 

In the other comments, it was a nice surprise to see a reference to Covey's The 8th Habit -- an all-time faviourite book of mine.  The teachings and wisdom in that book are directly relevant to anyone seeking to improve theirselves and the world around them.   This is highly recommended. 


David Eggleton wrote 10 years 41 weeks ago

Regarding Consciousness Shifting

"Inner Transition -- a vital and important part of all that we do -- is Macy's action #3: "A shift in consciousness," a shift in our basic awareness of how humanity fits within the massive ecosystems of this planet. "

I certainly have learning to do regarding Macy's diagnoses and prescriptions, but what comes across in the segment quoted is misty, if not foggy.  That is, it's not easy to see anything beyond a few steps away.  What would the shift involve and what would result?  To whom does the shift call?

Historically, majorities of peoples have been reduced to things by colonizers and industrialists.  One of the conversion stories is competent-producers-into-mere-consumers.  Once converted, the subjugated are as if trapped; much of what they know, love and desire becomes irrelevant to getting by.  What's irrelevant atrophies and effectively vanishes from their experience, not because they want that result.  Thus, the trapped can appear not to know of or care about the web of life, when they do.

The whole person paradigm, named and elaborated by Stephen R. Covey in his book The 8th Habit (2004), provides a clear and attractive vision and path that's aligned with the needed shift in consciousness.  He even wrote of becoming a transition person, which he defined as "one who stops unworthy tendencies from being passed on from prior generations to those that follow (your children and grandchildren)."

I am convinced that sustainable communities (which include resilient ones) will be comprised mostly, if not entirely, of whole people.  They are the ones alive and interdependent enough to meet and rise above unprecedented challenges.

shelby.tay wrote 10 years 42 weeks ago

Blog Action Day

Great post Joanne! This blog post is part of the Blog Action Day campaign:

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