The 411 on 350, 400, and 450 ppm

Yesterday, we featured one of the most famous and important infographics in science – the Keeling Curve. When Charles Keeling started collecting measurements of the atmosphere’s CO2 levels in 1958, they were at 315 parts per million (ppm). Last year, climate scientists anxiously watched – as should we all – as these levels surpassed 400 ppm, something never before seen in human history. This makes the number 400 a symbolic infographic in itself.

Credit: EcoWatch

Credit: EcoWatch

Why is 400 significant? It’s not just breaking the century mark. It is showing us that we are just 50 points to the next big number you’ll be hearing about – 450 ppm. At 450 ppm, there’s a 50/50 chance that the earth’s climate will be so changed that it will lead to dangerous and deadly consequences. Ralph Keeling, the son of Charles Keeling and who is also a  professor at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography like his father was, predicts we will hit the 450 ppm reading in less than 25 years if we continue down the same path we are currently on. So, if you are 25 now, your 50 year birthday may include a radically different environment. If you’re 50, your retirement years on Florida’s beaches may not look like the place to be. And if you are just now being born, you may never know a perfectly temperate spring season.

 Those who will be most affected by climate change are the poorest people on our planet. The next 25 years could bring an increase in floods, extreme heat waves, devastating storms, and food shortages where the people most in need will also be the most exposed to these dangers.

In an attempt to limit damage from climate change, many countries have put in place a target CO2 level of 450 ppm. However, the world’s two largest emitters of CO2, the U.S. and China, have refrained from adopting their own binding national targets.

An infographic of the global climate footprint.  (Credit: Carbon Action)

An infographic of the global climate footprint.
(Credit: Carbon Action)

Most environmental organizations in the U.S. endorse the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Wasman-Markey Climate Bill and its stated goal of 450 ppm. This backing was due an assessment that 450 ppm is the most feasible goal for the political conditions. This strategy relies more on incremental reform, assuming there is time for national legislation and negotiations to bring about international cooperation and enforcement.

Credit: Grist Magazine, Inc.

Credit: Grist Magazine, Inc.

As the numbers are showing, our climate is nothing to procrastinate about. So, there are counter groups that advocate for a more aggressive goal of 300-350 ppm. One of these advocate groups has made their mission their namesake –  These advocates reason that climate change is abrupt and irreversible and that we should counteract this reality by being quick, vast, blunt, and global in our reduction of CO2 emissions.

Numbers are important and you’re going to see a lot of them in the coming years. These numbers raise issues like what do we need to do to change course and adapt? Great questions and the subject of our next post: infographics about what you can do to make a difference.

The Collaborative Service Blog Team

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One thought on “The 411 on 350, 400, and 450 ppm

  1. […] we continued our focus on infographics about climate change by providing information (“the 411“) on important numbers you need to know – 350, 400 and 450. Today, we focus on the […]

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