Views and debates on climate change policy
Home | Panelists | Staff Blog | RSS

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming in 1989. A scholar in residence at Middlebury College, he has written a dozen more books, and leads the organization of global climate change protests. ALL POSTS

Can We Stop Global Warming?

The doubt at this point is whether we still have margin to actually stop global warming from getting completely out of control. Scientists are pretty clear that 350 parts per million Co2 represents a kind of threshold -- as one paper put it, beyond that we can't have a planet 'similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.'

Since we're at 390 parts per million now, that's scary -- and there are scientists who think we've waited too long to take action. They point to spiking methane concentrations, and changes in the earth's albedo, as signs that there's already a self-reinforcing feedback loop at work.

Clearly it's going to keep warming -- but the scientific consensus at the moment is that if we radically and quickly shut off the flow of carbon into the atmosphere, we'll be able to stop that warming short of the point where it truly challenges civilization. But that action will be difficult -- and with each month the peer-reviewed science gets a little darker.

By Bill McKibben  |  October 14, 2009; 2:47 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Science is Clear... So is the Economics | Next: Operating as Hypotheses


Please report offensive comments below.

We cannot build a comprehensible solution if we have to entertain wild rubbish from both "sides."

I believe that the question of AGW is inherently unknowable in scientific terms, due to the chaotic nature of the recent data.

I note here - 'Scientists are pretty clear that 350 parts per million Co2 represents a kind of threshold -- as one paper put it, beyond that we can't have a planet 'similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.''

Atmospheric CO2 has ranged between 120 PPM and 300 PPM approximately every 80 thousand years over the last million years. Almost every species which now exists has endured several of these cycles.

Arctic sea ice was massively diminished during the Eemian interglacial 120,000 years ago, and ice-free within the last million - again, well within the span of existence of most living species. Why, even the fragile Monarch butterfly dates back at least 2 million years, and the polar bear well more.

I endorse the question asked by the Post - "What Doubt is There About the Science Behind Global Warming?" Regrettably, it seems to provoke equally frantic shrieking from the Big-Endians and Little-Endians of the climate circuit.

Ultimately, the general "concern about the fate of the earth" is actually a far more parochial concern. Humans will be inconvenienced, but not extincted. However, current cultures and civilizations may be shifted dramatically, and we wealthy First-World countries do not like the threat of change, not one little bit.

Posted by: SteveofCaley | October 18, 2009 11:28 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Regarding the comment on CO2 as PLANT FOOD, let's take the argument one step further: what happens when any living being eats too much food? Obesity? Illness?
Unhealthy condition? And to the extreme ...Death? No further comment necessary.

Posted by: nhcar | October 18, 2009 3:02 PM
Report Offensive Comment

It's not called "global warming" anymore (because we've been cooling for the last decade).

CO2 is PLANT FOOD (as I learned in 5th Grade!). More CO2 results in faster plant growth, which results in more oxygen produced. Greenhouse garden suppliers even SELL CO2-producing equipment for just that purpose.

This whole issue is about government control of us ... just like the coming government-run "healthcare" (which will be another debacle).

Can you say FASCISM, boys and girls??

Bruce Hopkins
Best Prices Storable Foods

Posted by: foodstr2 | October 18, 2009 11:50 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Nothing the USA does will have a appreciable impact on the worlds overall levels of GHG's. China now leads the world, India right behind, growing fast. No matter how great our reductions, others will increase their pollution many times more, and do it again and again.

What we should do is focus on being as strong as possible to meet the future. Our own GHG emissions is immaterial.

Posted by: WilliamBlake | October 17, 2009 11:55 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The answers to global warming run parallel to the money.

Posted by: prossers7 | October 17, 2009 11:05 PM
Report Offensive Comment

All credible indications are that we have passed over a global climate tipping point and will likely soon face challenges that will sorely test our ability to maintain an industrialized civilization. The Holocene (the current geological epoch) has given mankind an unusually stable world climate for the past 11,000 yrs. The more "normal" climate patterns have historically been far more dynamic with dramatic and even violent shifts occurring in very short time spans. By altering the chemical makeup of the atmosphere we are quite likely to return the earth's climate to its past capricious practices. Building seawalls around coastal cities will not save us.

Posted by: graycycle | October 17, 2009 9:01 PM
Report Offensive Comment

It is time for the politicians to admit that we can't stop global warming. Our resources should be directed to building walls around the sea level population centers.

Posted by: wgbarbour1 | October 17, 2009 5:03 PM
Report Offensive Comment


"Seems the earth's climate is always changing, three days ago it was 75 degrees, this morning it's 39 degrees and raining here in Maryland. Enough of this liberal hocus pocus!"

That's weather you're talking about, not climate change!! Our public education system has failed to teach Americans basic science, and someday, maybe sooner than later, we will pay dearly for this.

Posted by: WailinGuy | October 17, 2009 2:56 PM
Report Offensive Comment

99% in favor and 1% in doubt is a shockingly slanted view. Hopefully just hyperbole.

The computer models that are relied on for the dire predictions are wrong over and over again. The same people who make the models the basis for their draconian solutions would never invest their own money based on similarly shoddy financial models. I don't care about the conspiracy theories on either side. I just want to see a public debate of the actual science. All we ever hear is "the debate is over," or "thousands of scientists say," or "the science is clear." When will the folks making the GWG claims actually address the seams in the "consensus" science??????

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 12:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Fair and balanced treatment does not mean giving the 1% of scientists expessing fundamental doubt in climate change versus the other 99% who support it. The hocus pocus is on the conservative side of the issue that tries to use their own, idustry "scientists" to debunk climate change for economic reasons. Every academy of science in the world has signed onto the fundamental beliefs about climate change and yeyhoo Craig7169 sees cold and rainy outside and comes to the conculsion that it's all a bunch of liberal bull. You can get these right-wing suckers to disbelieve anything

Posted by: diebrucke | October 17, 2009 7:50 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Better question yet is how do we get a newspaper like the Post to treat this issue in a fair and balanced way? There are plenty of solid, objective scientists out there who think this is a bunch of crap, can't find any of their comments in this so called forum? First it was Global Warming, now it's Climate Change. Seems the earth's climate is always changing, three days ago it was 75 degrees, this morning it's 39 degrees and raining here in Maryland. Enough of this liberal hocus pocus!

Posted by: craigy7169 | October 17, 2009 4:53 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company