Mama Remembers 400

Posted on May 13, 2013


deinotherium skullA little discussion with Mama about the meaning of 400 parts per million.

Mama was looking through the bones of her extinct children the other day (Mama doesn’t keep photographs) and pulled out a strange skull, gigantic, tusks attached to its lower jaw.

“Deinotherium, what a lovely name.  Of course, Deino never heard it since people weren’t around then to name things.”

When was that, Mama?

“Three million years ago or so, I guess.  They looked a little like elephants, except for shorter trunks and the downward tusks in the jaw.  Oh look here, Hippotherium, sort of looked like a horse, a little husky….That one, she never heard her name, either, same reason.  Australopithicus didn’t name things.  I don’t like the name as much anyway.  You should have seen her…”

hippotherium_brachypusWhy are you thinking about so long ago, Mama?

“We’ve just gone over 400 ppm for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—that was just last week—and you know what that does to my temperature.  I remember those days.  The last time my carbon was this high, it was the Pliocene. Deinotherium and Hippotherium used to come and sit on my knee.  It was quite warm then.  You know I don’t care about the temperature, but you might.  It was 8oC [14oF] warmer than today, about that.  I just don’t understand why you would want to turn your temperature that high.  The ocean was about 25 metres higher, that’s more than 80 feet higher, because of course there was less ice everywhere.  You see the ice melting don’t you?”

We see it, Mama.

“Well, pay attention to it.  You know there’s permafrost all around that melting Arctic ocean, and if all the methane in the permafrost is released by defrosting… Mama’s advice is (if you want to hear Mama’s advice) don’t buy a home by the seashore if you want to leave a home to your grandkids.  My real advice is that you’ve got to stop all this carbon mining, carbon pollution, carbon dependency, for your own good—if not for a whole bunch of better reasons.”

Well, I guess so.  Less than a degree of warming so far, 0.8oC, and we have droughts and storms, floods, heatwaves, crop failures.  What you’re talking about is ten times that much.  8oC is going to be really bad, Mama.

“Who said 8oC?  8oC is where you’ve set the thermostat now.  You go like you’ve been doing, are still doing, won’t stop doing—you kids!—and we’ll all be at 450 ppm in 25 years.  Steam the CO2 out of the ocean, burn up the forests with wildfire, melt the permafrost and let’s try for 500 or 1000 parts per million.”

I hate it when you get in these moods, Mom.  Wasn’t it just Mother’s D… ?

“I remember back then it was warm, really warm, and there were lizards.  Lizards.  Dinos.  Lot’s of CO2 in the atmosphere, and really hot from your point of view.  You lot, homo sapiens (what a silly name!) you’ll have to move out of the tropics, too.  Too hot for you, I’m afraid, even in the shade with a fan blowing and keeping perfectly still.  Nice for lizards and ants, though.”

Mom, this is really bringing me down.

“I’d worry about you.  You know I’d worry about you, um, whatever your name is.  But I’ve got so much to worry about, so many of my other children dying out if this doesn’t stop.  I know, I know.  There will eventually be new children, but to lose half of the children you have all at once?  That hurts.  So many species gone.  So many new skulls for my memory box.  Oh that comet.  Those dinosaurs.  It still feels like yesterday to me.  This is going to be just like that, I’m afraid, it’s happening so fast.”

I’m going for a walk now, Mom.

“What I don’t understand is why you don’t do anything about it?”

We’re afraid of a carbon tax, Mom.  Don’t make a face.  No, really.  It’s a human thing.  We don’t like riding in buses.  I’m leaving now.

“Well, don’t go away such a gloomy Gus,” said Mama at last, before turning back again to reminisce and pick over her collection of sentimental bones, “it will all fade and return to normal in 50 or 100 generations, and you’ll forget it ever happened.”

Mama always looks at the long term.