Activists will hold global weekend vigils to put for a climate deal | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now Austin News, Weather, Traffic KEYE-TV Austin - HOME
Dec 112009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Candlelight vigils have been held for a lot of causes. The cause for a series of vigils this weekend trumps almost anything in scope. Millions of climate activists are expected to light candles to advocate for  the safety and preservation of the planet.

The candlelight vigils on Friday and Saturday evenings, will happen around the globe, as climate advocates send a somber signal to negotiators in Copenhagen to make a “real deal” by signing a fair and ambitious treaty to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are triggering a climate disaster.

Organizers report that these events, some large and some small,  many at iconic locations, and one in Copenhagen featuring Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, are beginning now. Check out the pictures and details at, the alliance through which many groups are organizing events. Find a local vigil to join at

Sadly, many of these activists have been mocked by those who say climate change is not happening, or is not man-made.  It’s a free world. People speak out, regardless of their credentials, and in our democracy, we’re glad for that. Let’s just say, beware the loudly yelling politician and the un-credentialed critic.

Consider the weight of the science, and that we ignore it at our peril.

But speaking of the physical science behind climate change…if you want to know more about that number, 350, which many of the candlelight activists will be telegraphing, it refers to the level of carbon in the air. Many scientists now consider that 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere to be a  safe level that will sustain the planet and evade climate disaster.

Currently, we’ve slipped beyond that, at about 387 ppm. And it’s not as if we can flip it back next year to a lower number, because carbon lingers in the atmosphere for years.

This carbon, and other greenhouse gas pollutants, as you know, act to trap heat (hence their name “greenhouse” gases). At 350 ppm of carbon, the globe would still be well above the pre-industrial level of 288 ppm, but well below the previously set upper limit of 450 ppm. (More at

Why the change in the scientific community’s upper threshold? Back when climate negotiations began in response to the early warning signs about greenhouse gases, scientists estimated that atmospheric carbon needed to be held to 450 or below. That seemed realistic and prudent.

In the intervening years, dozens of scientists have reported that the picture is more dire than they first realized. The ice caps are melting back farther during the warm seasons, glaciers are disappearing, ice sheets are speeding up as they move into the ocean, droughts and severe storm systems are worsening.

Recently, a group of more than two dozen scientists warned that tipping points — junctures at which the changes are unstoppable — are closer than ever.

See that report, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, if you want to know more. It’s academic but highly readable.

Or, if you’ve got climate disaster fatigue, consider the brighter side. Should the world bring down global GHG emissions, we could enjoy a healthier planet; one in which many businesses would thrive as economies converted to more sustainable energy, agriculture and business practices would be great for business.

Thinking about the concept of sustainability–  taking measures to preserve human and natural resources instead of burning through them (such is the lesson of fossil fuels, where, oops, we failed to write an exit strategy) — this makes intuitive sense.

Maybe it’s a little utopian, maybe all the technologies aren’t perfected yet. Maybe it also gives our youngest generations a brighter future.

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