For the first time in human history, global CO2 levels have exceeded the safe zone — permanently.
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League of Conservation Voters

The big UN Climate Conference started on Nov. 30, and the timing couldn't be better — because as of Nov. 11, CO2 levels in our air have officially exceeded the safe zone.

According to measurements from the Scripps Mauna Lua Observatory in Hawaii, the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has risen above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years.

And sadly, it will never drop down again as long as any of us are living.


Oh boy, gee golly. I can't wait until the world looks like Beijing! Photo by Steven Zhang/Flickr.

For reference, CO2 levels clocked in around 275 ppm before the Industrial Revolution and scientists have been urging us for years to get things down to 350 ppm in order to stop temperatures from rising even more and damaging the planet.

Of course, some people still argue that this is just the natural cycle of things. Which, well...

Image via Leland_McInnes/Wikimedia Commons.

So I mean, sure, there is a natural cycle to carbon levels. Note the word "natural" — digging up and burning fossil fuels is not natural, especially at the rate we've been doing it.

We've spent the last few decades pumping an additional two ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. And that's above and beyond the constraints of that natural cycle.

Also worth noting: The last time CO2 levels were consistently over 400 ppm? Global temperatures were about three degrees higher; the polar ice caps melted, causing sea levels to rise about 30 feet from where they are right now; and camels lived in the Arctic region.

Camels.

In the Arctic.

And speaking of cycles...

The Earth actually passed that 400 ppm milestone back in May, before dipping back down to 398.2 ppm in July. Why the dip? That's just due to the seasonal increase of plant life in the Northern Hemisphere.

As you might recall from middle school science class, plants love CO2. That's why we get along with them so well; it's a mutually beneficial relationship.


Image via Mikael Haggstrom/Wikimedia Commons.

But now, winter is coming and the plants are dead and CO2 levels are back up to 400 ppm. ¯\\_(ツ)_/¯

Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and we're still increasing CO2 levels by two ppm every year — well, it's safe to say we won't see another atmosphere in that safe zone below 400 ppm as long as any of us are alive.

Now if only we had more trees to eat up all that extra CO2...

Unfortunately, we're a little preoccupied with cutting our trees down. Industrial deforestation accounts for 23% of man-made carbon emissions, or 17% of our total carbon increase over the last 100 years.

Photo by Kaibab National Forest/Flickr.

There's also the fact that the influx of wildfires across the planet is directly related to the increase in global temperatures.

Photo by Cameron Strandberg/Flickr.

To recap: We're burning fossil fuels to cut down trees that would otherwise eat the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn causes global temperatures to rise, which leads to the forests combusting, which results in fewer trees to eat the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which...

This GIF is a metaphor. We're Melissa McCarthy, and the Earth is Kristen Wiig. GIF from "Bridesmaids."

While our air quality won't get any better within our own lifetimes, we can still make it better for the next generation.

If you care about your children, and your children's children, and their children's children, and so on, sign this petition to support the EPA and the Clean Power Plan.

If we all work together, we could build a brighter future that returns our planet to those natural cycles that worked so well for so long.

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

via Mike Mozart / Flickr

The Biden administration was prevented from inserting a $15 per-hour federal minimum wage in its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in February due to a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian. It was the closest the federal government has come to raising the minimum wage to a level that activists have been fighting for over the past decade.

However, an unusual set of circumstances have aligned that could push the private sector into creating a de facto $15 minimum wage without any government mandate.

The restaurant business was shaken on Monday when Chipotle announced it was raising its current average wage of $13 an hour by another two dollars, bringing it to around $15. The change should be in full effect by June.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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