The Economics of 350 – Why Decreasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Is Smart Investing

Frank Ackerman, author of  Can We Afford the Future? Economics for a Warming World, is an economist specializing in climate change and a prominent critic of conventional economic approaches to climate policy and the abuses of cost-benefit analysis. He writes extensively for academic, policy and general audiences and has directed studies for clients ranging from Greenpeace to the European Parliament and U.S. federal and state agencies.

Mr. Ackerman recently wrote on Yale  Environment 360 about a group of economists that maintain that working towards the target of 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is a smart investment — as well as the best insurance policy humanity could buy.

The following is excerpted from his column:

The climate change news from Washington is cautiously encouraging. No one in power is listening to the climate skeptics any more; the economic stimulus package included real money for clean energy; a bill capping U.S. carbon emissions emerged, battered but still standing, from the House of Representatives, and might even survive the Senate. This, along with stricter emission standards in Europe and a big push for clean energy and efficiency standards in China, provides grounds for hope for genuine progress on emissions reduction.

But while climate policy is finally moving forward, climate science is moving faster. One discovery after another suggests the world is warming faster, and climate damages are appearing sooner, than anyone had expected. Much of the policy discussion so far has been aimed at keeping the atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450 parts per million (ppm) — which was until recently thought to be low enough to prevent dangerous levels of warming. But last year, James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, argued that paleoclimatic evidence shows 450 ppm is the threshold for transition to an ice-free earth. This would imply a catastrophic rise in sea levels, eventually flooding all coastal cities and regions.

To avoid reaching such a crisis stage, Hansen and a growing number of others now call for stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 350 ppm. The world is now around 390 ppm and rising; since CO2 persists in the atmosphere for a long time, it is difficult to reduce concentrations quickly. In Hansen’s scenario, a phaseout of coal use, massive reforestation, and widespread use of carbon capture and storage could allow the world to achieve negative net carbon emissions by mid-century and reach 350 ppm by 2100.

Can we afford to reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 ppm by the end of this century? To address this question, Economists for Equity and Environment ( — a group dedicated to applying and developing economic principles to protect human health and the environment — conducted a study of “The Economics of 350.” Click here to read the rest of Ackerman’s column at Yale Environment 360.

To see what the wonderful folks at are planning for 2010, view the video below.  In it, Bill McKibben discusses’s plans for 2010, and outlines why grassroots climate action is more important now than ever. Click here to read’s  “Getting to Work in 2010” plan.


Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I understand that you are a very intelligent man.  You have your master’s degree in economics, and you play a mean Beatles tune on the piano.  And you have worked hard and dedicated yourself to the pursuit of political power. You have been the Prime Minister of Canada for 4 years now, albeit in a minority parliament.  You also are the father of 2 children, Benjamin and Rachel.

I would like to talk to you as one parent to another. I love my children dearly, as I’m sure that you love Benjamin and Rachel.  There is nothing that most parents wouldn’t do to ensure that their children’s life is a happy, healthy, and secure one.  We work to put bread on the table for them, we scrimp and save for their college fund, we drive them to their hockey games and piano lessons, and we encourage them to apply themselves in school to make their future opportunities better. We want the best, because we love them and care deeply about what happens to them.

You have a unique opportunity, Mr. Harper.  You are not only a father, you are the Prime Minister of Canada right now.  We in Canada, and the rest of the globe, are in a unique position at this moment in history. We are poised on the brink of disaster.  This is what the experts – both the climate experts and the Inuit people in the arctic – are telling us.  The number 350 is the most important number in the world right now.  Yes, even more important than 155, the number of members of parliament required for a majority government.  350 parts per million is the number that scientists tell us is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.  Right now we are sitting at 390, and the number is climbing.

There is a big difference between being intelligent and being wise, Mr. Harper.  Winning at the political game is possible while losing in a much larger sense.  It’s time to set aside political expediency and act to save our children’s futures.  While there is still time.  For your Benjamin and Rachel, for my Kate and Emma, and for all the other children in Canada and around the world.

2009 – The Year the Climate Change Movement Went Global

In 2009, millions of people came together around the world to pressure leaders to sign a legally binding and ambitious deal in Copenhagen. Although the final result in Copenhagen was a failure, 2009 was the year that the climate movement exploded. This movement will continue to build in energy and numbers until sustainability is achieved. This multimedia piece is a collection of images by Robert van Waarden taken during 2009 when he focused on the climate movement growth around the world.


Go to to learn more.

Take Time To Renew Your Spirit

Climate change is not an isolated environmental issue. It touches every part of our lives: peace, security, human rights, poverty, hunger, health, mass migration and economics. If we are to preserve the planet for future generations, we must reach 350ppm – the most important number on earth. Otherwise, we will reach the point of no return.

~ Bianca Jagger

Message of Hope – 350 Reasons To Care For God’s Creation

The following video was created by Hope Mennonite Church in response to the challenge of climate change, and in solidarity with the people around the globe who are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate injustice. Here’s what their YouTube posting says:

The crazy folks at Hope Mennonite Church (in Winnipeg Canada) believe God wants us all to take care of the earth. And they want to show you 350 Bible references to “prove” it!

Enjoy the video, which was directed and produced by Curtis Wiebe. Curt also wrote and performed the music. In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit I had a part in organizing the event.