350 Reasons to Act Now

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

350. What's the significance of this number? It's the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, measured in parts per million, that is considered safe for humans according to leading scientists. What number are we at now? 390. We're already too big for our clothes.

Global warming is speeding up. It's our fault; we're addicted to dirty energy. But the international climate talks in Copenhagen this December provide an incredible opportunity to set greenhouse gas emission limits that get us to the magic number. We can't do this alone--"we" as individuals, and even "we" as the United States. We need to be accountable to each other, everywhere in the world, to save it.

I know it's easy not to think about climate change. Everyone likes a long summer. Unless we're dealing with a Hurricane Katrina, it's easy to forget, to focus on the economy, health care, the war(s), and making it through the day. Imagine, though, that we're on a very slowly sinking ship. Let's call it the Titanic. It has already hit an iceberg. It is going to take a really long time to sink--so long, you will barely notice the water levels rising. But we have this amazing new technology that will actually allow us to repair the Titanic's hole, and bail out the water. (A side note: implementing the technology will stimulate the ship's economy!) Do we want to use it? Or, do we want to forget about it and focus on the power struggle between the groups on the boat? It's all in the timing. By the time it's obvious we are going down, it will be too late for anything but a few life rafts for the wealthy. (Not their kids, though; they won't make it in the long run.)

I spoke with a prominent environmental law professor recently who thinks we're all doomed. A number of environmentalists have already given up on getting anywhere in Copenhagen. I agree we'd be doomed if we sat here in our SUVs, cranking the air up as it gets hotter. But I don't buy it. Remember "nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change?" Remember "yes we can?" Remember that, yes, we did? We can do this too. I have to believe this, and I want you to believe it, too.

Saturday, October 24 is International Day of Climate Action. So raise your voice. Tell your family and friends why Copenhagen is important. Tell your elected representatives that you think we need a climate bill now--to regulate ourselves, and to show the international community that we're serious. (Thanks, Senator Boxer and Senator Kerry, for getting the ball rolling on that in the Senate, after passage of the Markey-Waxman bill by the House in June.) Tell President Obama that if he can make it to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago to host the Olympics, he can make it for this; it's a little bit more important. (And he'll be heading to Oslo anyway to accept his Nobel Prize...make it worth something, Obama!) Check out what's going on at,, and

And don't forget to turn off the lights and unplug your computer when you're done.