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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/21/2009

For climate activists, '350' is a call to action

By Andrew Freedman

Weekend events in D.C. and worldwide

* Sunshine now, but for how long? Full Forecast | Earthquake weather *

The Maldives government holds a recent cabinet meeting underwater to call attention to threats posed by climate change. Credit: AFP/Ho.

As countries make final preparations to negotiate a new climate treaty in December at a U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, activists from around the world are increasing the pressure on governments to commit to aggressive cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global climate change.

Saturday, one prominent group,, whose name refers to a target level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of 350 parts per million (ppm), will hold what it bills as the "largest day of global political action in history." Events are scheduled in the D.C. area and across the globe. has already made waves recently, so to speak. The group helped organize an Oct. 17 cabinet meeting held underwater by the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, to highlight the threat climate change-induced sea-level rise poses to his low-lying island nation. This weekend, 350 divers plan to be in the Maldives' Male Lagoon to mark's "International Day of Climate Action."

The grassroots organization was co-founded by the environmentalist Bill McKibben, and takes its inspiration from studies published since the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report showing that global emissions are outpacing most of the scenarios outlined by the U.N. panel, and that the climate system is more sensitive to the buildup of greenhouse gases than previously thought.

The most prominent scientific voice in favor of the 350 ppm target has been NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who first discussed it at a scientific conference in 2007. Hansen will take part in a rally in Rome on Sunday, in keeping with his increasingly activist-oriented role in recent years. Hansen and several colleagues published a paper last year that identified 350 ppm as the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide.

"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that," the paper stated. In April, a separate study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that the 350 ppm target would have a 75 percent or greater chance of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The two-degree mark is significant, because the Group of Eight Industrialized countries and many others have formally committed to the goal of keeping climate change from exceeding that threshold.

"Very few people even knew of this number two years ago," said coordinator Jamie Henn in an e-mail conversation about the 350 ppm target. "So it's quite amazing to see so much support now, from scientists, over 95 countries, to millions of people around the world who will be participating in the October 24 day of action."

However, and Hansen's view of the severity and pace of climate change is not shared by all mainstream climate scientists. Many experts take a more moderate position that significant emissions reductions are needed, but that making the drastic changes necessary to get down to 350 ppm may not be necessary to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.

In addition, the recent slowdown in the rate of warming has raised questions about how well computer models are capturing the way the climate system responds to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Henn points to recent extreme weather and climate events to bolster the need for the 350 target.

"We're at about 390 parts per million of C02 right now and people around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change, from the children in Kenya who are forming a giant 350 in their parched fields this Saturday to the students who will be carrying 350 banners in the flooded streets of Manila," Henn said. "If we're already experiencing these impacts at 390, then it's clear that turning up the amount of C02 to 450 parts per million or beyond is the wrong decision."

The main D.C. area event on Saturday will be a rally starting in Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park that has been organized by a coalition including the Hip Hop Caucus and Friends of the Earth. Click here for a full list of events being held locally and worldwide.

The climate action day comes several weeks after the "Friends of America" Labor Day rally in West Virginia, at which a petition against climate legislation was circulated.

Other noteworthy events in the works include a rally at McMurdo station in Antarctica, and a meeting on the Dead Sea between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians "to make the connection between peace and environment, highlighting the joint need to protect natural resources."

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | October 21, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, News & Notes, Science  
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The draft Climate Change Treaty can be found here. That link also highlights critical portions of the treaty. I encourage everyone to read it.

Lord Monckton's opinion on the treaty can be found here.

Here is a quote from his speech -
--begin quote--
And the trouble is this; if that treaty is signed, if your Constitution says that it takes precedence over your Constitution (sic), and you can’t resign from that treaty unless you get agreement from all the other state parties – And because you’ll be the biggest paying country, they’re not going to let you out of it.

So, thank you, America. You were the beacon of freedom to the world. It is a privilege merely to stand on this soil of freedom while it is still free. But, in the next few weeks, unless you stop it, your president will sign your freedom, your democracy, and your humanity away forever. And neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect will have any power whatsoever to take it back. That is how serious it is. I’ve read the treaty. I’ve seen this stuff about [world] government and climate debt and enforcement. They are going to do this to you whether you like it or not.
--end quote--

This is deadly serious stuff. You owe it to yourself and your children to read it and get involved.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 21, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

By choosing the name they have locked themselves into a way of thinking that prevents them from assimulating new climate information as it develops. According to the NYT, BBC and Chistian Science Monitor we've not had global warming for ten years. The wheels appear to be coming off man-made global warming theory as it is preached by the IPCC and The U.S. needs our own 'Climate Truth Commission' to seek out the truth.

--Robert Moen,

Posted by: Rmoen | October 21, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

As far as the Maldives underwater cabinet meeting, here is what a world renowned sea level expert had to say about that.

--begin quote--
Let us, for Heaven’s sake, lift the terrible psychological burden that you and your predecessor have placed upon the shoulders of all people in the Maldives, who are now living with the imagined threat that flooding will soon drive them from their homes, a wholly false notion that is nothing but an armchair fiction artificially constructed by mere computer modeling constantly proven wrong by meticulous real-world observations.

Your cabinet meeting under the water is nothing but a misdirected gimmick or PR stunt. Al Gore is a master in such cheap techniques. But such misconduct is dishonest, unproductive and certainly most un-scientific.
--end quote--

Above quote is from Nils-Axel Mörner -

Head of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics at Stockholm University, Sweden (1991-2005); President of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution (1999-2003); Leader of the Maldives Sea Level Project (2000 on); Chairman of the INTAS project on Geomagnetism and Climate (1997-2003).

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 21, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

But Mr Q., according to Andrew, Mr. Morner isn't a real scientist; he is not a credible expert, especially since he has a blog, and those organizations he is a part of are funded by Big Oil! He is clearly cherry picking facts that support the oil companies who bankroll him, because no reasonable, credible scientists can disagree with Andrew.

Posted by: octopi213 | October 21, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

octopi213, if Mr. Freedman doesn't want to accept Morner I wouldn't argue with him. Perhaps he will accept the IPCC report. According to AR4, page 45, Table 3.1, the worst case scenario would produce a sea level rise of 0.26 to 0.59 meters. That is the worst case scenario. And that is based upon their computer models which have done nothing but grossly overestimate the impact of CO2 and temperature rise.

0.26 meters is 10.24 inches
0.59 meters is 23.23 inches

So using the IPCC's grossly overestimating computer model's worst case scenario produces a maximum rise of less than 2 feet.

That wouldn't even make it up to the crotch of those divers in the photograph. Try picturing them in their scuba gear standing in 23 inches of water. How silly would that look? It wouldn't even get the paper on the table wet!

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 21, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

The jury may still be out on "global warming"...but one needs to remember that Washington, D.C. HAS NOT HAD A MAJOR "CRIPPLING" SNOWSTORM since 2003, and below-normal snow/ice for several years in a row! In addition the data on Arctic Sea, Antarctic, Greenland, and montane ice seem to support some sort of global warming, but the solar sunspot minimum could be pointing towards a cooling spell.

As for this winter, I'm not too optimistic from the snow lover's point of view. The possible strength of the current ENSO event points towards a nasty, windy rerun of the infamous 1997/98 "year without a winter". There could even be a huge ice storm or storms in New England or Atlantic Canada this winter, as in 1998.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 21, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q, I'll leave the lack of understanding re: international and constitutional law to you, Anthony Watts, and Lord Monckton.

I am not aware of Nils-Axel Morner, but re: the IPCC figures you quoted, they are not the entire story on sea level rise. Sea level rise is one of the greatest uncertainties in climate change, and these uncertainties are not exactly comforting to island states such as the Maldives.

As this post from Stefan Ramsdorf details, in calculating the most likely range of sea level rise during the 21st century, the IPCC left out major sources of uncertainty that could raise sea levels considerably - such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Since the Fourth Assessment Report was published, several studies have shown much higher sea level rise projections, based in part on data showing more melting from Greenland and parts of Antarctica than expected.

We may very well see that upper bound of the projection shift higher for the next assessment report, depending on new data.

That said, it's possible that sea level rise won't be significant enough to put small island countries like the Maldives under water. But I find it difficult to fault the governments of such countries for calling attention to what is an existential threat, even if experts disagree about the odds of it occurring.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | October 21, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I am all for energy conservation and planting trees, ect., however shipping our wealth over to the third world and creating a global governing agency will be a disaster much worse than a 2 ft change in sea level.

People wake up on this issue. The science is not a done deal at all.

Posted by: Tom8 | October 21, 2009 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Andrew Freedman wrote, "Mr. Q, I'll leave the lack of understanding re: international and constitutional law to you, Anthony Watts, and Lord Monckton."

Well where's the fun in that? I dying to have you tell me the areas in which I lack understanding! This must go with that other skill of yours that you flaunted last week. That ability of yours to ascertain what I perceive without me telling you. You are one talented man Mr. Andrew Freedman.

Andrew Freedman also wrote, "As this post from Stefan Ramsdorf details, in calculating the most likely range of sea level rise during the 21st century, the IPCC left out major sources of uncertainty that could raise sea levels considerably - such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet."

Correct me if I am wrong, but when Mr. McIntyre pointed out the serious flaws in Dr. Mann's magical proxies and mythical hockey stick, weren't you the one who criticized him for doing it on a blog, and not via peer-reviewed literature? Didn't you write, "Andrew Revkin of the New York Times just published a post on DotEarth regarding the Hockey Stick controversy. He too zeroes in on the conflict between 'blog science' and the peer reviewed literature. ... Blogs have arisen as a lively addition to the journals - more accessible to most people and more interactive, but also frequently agenda-driven and lacking in robust verification procedures."

But look at you now! Using a blog post to refute the IPCC no less! I'm thinking of a word that describes this type of double standard.

You should have quoted more from that link you provided. Stefan Ramsdorf wrote, "Considering these issues, a sea level rise exceeding one metre can in my view by no means ruled out. In a completely different analysis, based only on a simple correlation of observed sea level rise and temperature, I came to a similar conclusion. As stated in that paper, my point here is not that I predict that sea level rise will be higher than IPCC suggests, or that the IPCC estimates for sea level are wrong in any way."

So he said that a sea level rise of three feet can't be ruled out, but then he goes out of his way to say that he is NOT predicting that sea level rise will be higher than IPCC estimates.

Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 12:54 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Q. - I think you're misreading that last quote.

It says " POINT is not..." (my own emphasis added). So the "not" is referring to the overall purpose of the essay instead of that that specific prediction.

Thus, the author is sticking with his prediction but simply stating that the prediction wasn't the purpose of the article.

Posted by: wildwolf45 | October 22, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

If you can read English, you don't need to take anyone's word on what is included in the treaty. Anthony Watts has posted it online. You can find it here. Download it and read it for yourself.

At the bottom of page 18 of the pdf you will find the following

38. The scheme for the new institutional arrangement under the Convention will be based on three basic pillars: government; facilitative mechanism; and financial mechanism, and the basic organization of which will include the following:

(a) [blah... blah... snipped]

[continue on to page 19 of the pdf]

(b) The Convention’s financial mechanism will include a multilateral climate change fund including five windows: (a) an Adaptation window, (b) a Compensation window, to address loss and damage from climate change impacts, including insurance, rehabilitation and compensatory components, (c) a Technology window; (d) a Mitigation window; and (e) a REDD window, to support a multi-phases process for positive forest incentives relating to REDD actions.

[the points I wish to highlight]

There will be a multilateral climate change fund. It will include compensation to address loss and damage from climate change impacts - which includes compensatory components. That's a nice, big, broad category. In lawyer speak, "compensatory components" can be almost anything. More on that later.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

At the bottom of page 58 of the pdf you will find the following

9. In addition to the principles outlined in Article 3 of the Convention, the Parties shall be guided, inter alia, by the following:

(a) Developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof;

(b) All Parties should contribute to the global effort to combat climate change, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities – a spectrum of effort is envisaged;

[continue on to page 59 of the pdf]

(c) All Parties should aim to undertake a similar level of effort to others at a similar level of development and with similar national circumstances

(d) Those Parties whose national circumstances reflect greater responsibility or capability should make a greater contribution to the global effort.

[my interpretation]

If the U.K. or Spain were to decide to contribute $5,000 per citizen to the climate change fund (see my previous comment), we should, at minimum, match that effort. But if you read on, some countries should make a greater contribution to the global effort. Can I get a show of hands of everyone who thinks the United States will be tagged as a country that should contribute more.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Two thirds of the way down page 122 of the pdf you will find the following

17. [[Developed [and developing] countries] [Developed and developing country Parties] [All Parties] [shall] [should]:]

(a) Compensate for damage to the LDCs’ economy and also compensate for lost opportunities, resources, lives, land and dignity, as many will become environmental refugees;

(b) Africa, in the context of environmental justice, should be equitably compensated for environmental, social and economic losses arising from the implementation of response measures.

[no interpretation necessary]

I don't need to interpret any of that. Just think what politicians and lawyers will do with those clauses. Somebody will be paying a whole bunch of money. If not us, then probably our children. Or, both us and our children.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: Please try to keep to the topic at hand, which in the case of this piece was the group and the science behind that target. I won't get into the ins and outs of proposed climate agreement text, except to say that what Anthony Watts posted is not a 'treaty' but rather proposed principles that would underlie an eventual agreement. It is considered unlikely, at this point, that Copenhagen will produce a new binding international treaty.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | October 22, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Freedman,

I did stick to the topic at hand. Did you not read your own lead sentence?

--begin quote--
As countries make final preparations to negotiate a new climate treaty in December at a U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, activists from around the world are ...
--end quote--

Please take note of your own phrase "a new climate treaty".

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Andrew Freedman wrote, "It is considered unlikely, at this point, that Copenhagen will produce a new binding international treaty."

As much as I want to believe that is correct, it would be utter foolishness on my part to assume that it is. I don't want to leave this to chance. This is waaaaaaay too important. I owe it to my children to get involved and let my voice be heard.

If you believe as I do, you really need to contact all of your elected representatives and politely voice your opinion. I beg you. Please.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 22, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Nils Axel-Morner:

Axel-Morner claims to be an expert in "dowsing," the practice of finding water, metals, gemstones etc. through the use of a Y-shaped twig. Axel-Morner's attempt to prove his dowsing abilities is chronicled by James Randi, the well-known myth buster, who has offered the longstanding One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

Axel-Morner is a retired professor from the University of Stockholm. According to a search of 22,000 academic journals, Axel-Morner has published 65+ original research papers in peer-reviewed journals, mainly in the area of paleoseismicity, in other words the study of historical earthquake activity.

Posted by: CapitalClimate | October 22, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Two thoughts on 350. First the ice cores are smoothed so for any time period prior to the current interglacial we don't know what the peak CO2 was. Whether CO2 spiked higher or not during the last interglacial (120k years ago) cannot be determined and it probably doesn't matter anyway. Saying 400 or even 500 is unprecedented in the last million years is unsupportable.

The second point is that climate sensitivity is dependent on the highly nonlinear distribution of water vapor, otherwise known as weather. With sufficient weather modeling we will know whether tropospheric water vapor will rise or stay flat in the tropics, and whether it will fall, stay flat, or rise in the subtropics. That means we have to model small scale convection to see how much water vapor gets pumped up to altitude, how it gets distributed and how much rains out.

Raising CO2 to 400 or 500 ppm will cause warming without a doubt. The warming from CO2 itself will depend partly on the amount of spectrum filled by water vapor, but it is generally agreed to be less than 1 degree C. The further warming from water vapor feedback is disputed. It ranges from cooling (negative feedback) to strong positive feedback. The best estimates will come from global models with sufficient resolution (or integrated with high resolution submodels) to model the weather.

Note that modeling weather is not the same as predicting it. Weather predictions require precise knowledge of initial conditions, climate predictions need realistic conditions, not accurate ones. Second weather predictions are inevitably tripped up by chaotic influences. Climate predictions are not degraded by weather chaos. But climate predictions can be wrong (as we see currently) from inadequate solar modeling (and unpredictability) and from unpredictable things like ENSO (but as with weather, realistic modeling is what is needed, not accuracy at any point in time).

Posted by: eric654 | October 23, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Andrew Freedman wrote, "The most prominent scientific voice in favor of the 350 ppm target has been NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who first discussed it at a scientific conference in 2007. Hansen will take part in a rally in Rome on Sunday, in keeping with his increasingly activist-oriented role in recent years."

This is the same James Hansen who back in 1988-1989 predicted that -
The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.” Then he said, “There will be more police cars.” Why? “Well, you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.

That was back in 1988-1989. He predicted it would happen in 20 to 30 years. It has already been 20 years. And he still stands by that prediction!!

Why people in the media take him or his predictions seriously is completely beyond me.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 23, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

There are almost 4000 actions happening in 161 different countries in support of 350's ( International Day of Climate Action (10/24)!

Take action from your own home by watching Artful Change's Carbon-Neutral Online Benefit Concert. Enjoy the free show and donate to the cause by purchasing MP3s and artwork from the website.

All proceeds from these sales will go to benefit Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 50 environmental and social justice organizations fighting for a movement towards clean energy:

Watch the concert now:

Posted by: artfulchange1 | October 24, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

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