watch those carbs: join the 350 club!

The 100 watt light bulb has officially been turned off in Europe. Nearly two hundred years of high illuminating incandescence has reached its final demise. As we turn into the ninth year of the twenty-first century this evil doer of carbon emissions is relegated to the dustbin of history.

This is just a step though, a baby step. For every hour the 100 watt light bulb has lit the faces of dreamers it has drawn on about 1/10th (one tenth) of a kWh (Kilowatt) of energy. Energy most likely forced from its source in coal, gas or atomic fission leaving a cloud of carbon or a mile of half-lives in their wake.

This 1/10th of a kWh may seem insignificant on the surface, but when weighed in the atmosphere it comes in at a hefty .062 kilograms, just over a tenth of a pound (lb). This means that for every tenth of a kWh of light, a tenth of a pound of carbon emitted by a billion user’s soon adds up to 5,000 tons of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. With trees and oceans reaching carbon saturation points, 40% of this carbon output now has nowhere to go but up into our atmosphere where it becomes trapped, adding weight to an already heavy carbon blanket that wraps the earth and makes us warmer.

How many light bulbs does it take to destroy the planet? Shall we start on 60 watt bulbs next? Europe is supposedly on the leading edge when it comes to climate agreements, green economics and sustainable culture, yet in light of this (no pun intended), the light bulb decree might be deemed too little action too late. After all we are in the sixth greatest extinction, we have recorded previously unrecorded extreme weather patterns, one species does go extinct every minute, sea levels are rising, climate change refugees are on the move, and global consumption levels are higher than ever.

All said and done, with plasma screen TVs slated for the carbon chopping block next, Europe it seems does have the edge on carbon reduction. Due to an historic turn for the worse in the last eight years consciousness in the U.S. is now seriously lagging when it comes to political action on consumption. We were further along in the 1970s when President Carter installed solar panels on the Whitehouse. Today green consciousness has rolled back so far, that one can only imagine the uproar when the Super bowl will not be shown on plasma TVs. Will they be selling like hotcakes on eBay, or will the American people wake up and move forward on climate change with the lightening speed that got this brand new era of hope elected in the first place? These are not rhetorical questions, but real concerns, because the consciousness that drives the market, also drives us to the brink of environmental calamity, and quite frankly I don’t want to be the “told you so” person. I’d rather we all woke-up, recognized the mess and started doing something about it.

Which brings me to the 350 Club. 350 ppm (part per million) is the ideal cap on the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules per million other molecules that should go into our atmosphere in order to maintain balance among the earth’s ecological systems. Since homosapians first walked upright the magic number has stabilized at 275 ppm. With industrialization humans started to take the carbon stored below the earth’s surface  – like coal, oil, gas – and burn it to produce energy for all our big and small machines like cars and light bulbs. What took millions of years to layer and pack underground has been released above ground in just under 200 years.

Today, the cumulative effect of industrialization and globalization has increased the amount of carbon in our atmosphere to 387 ppm, a number that rises by nearly 2 ppm a year. With each consumer purchase, such as the $2,000 Tata car in India or the $100 wind-up laptop for poverty stricken school children in Africa, this number will only rise.

Climate change is by no means the only problem, but is currently the biggest for life on earth. Not in some far off future, but right now, which means we all have to change our carbon impact in the way we use lights, appliances, construction, entertainment, even the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and the food we eat.

We are heading toward 400 ppm by 2020, which means a 3°C rise is probable, but not yet inevitable. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), water, ecosystems, food, coasts and health are all areas that will be impacted by this rise in temperature. It’s high time for a paradigm shift so we can bring those numbers down instead of feeding them on the up. The 350 paradigm shift is underway. Should you join it or leave the earth for dust. It’s your call.

At the end of the day, all the scientific data sets and modeling can reveal to a handful of scientists the enormity of the problem, but it will not solve the crisis we humans have created. It is one thing to recognize a problem, but another to ask why it has happened. Human survival over the coming decades is now entirely dependent on our ability to look at ourselves and ask some deep questions about our habits and the way we live out our everyday lives so that those who inherit the earth are given a vibrant future full of all the possibilities biological diversity has to offer. Why would we ask for anything less?

Visit 350.org for information on how you can act.

Fiona Sinclair

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