The Carbon Big Gulp: Global Warming Makes You Fat

In the face of climate policy initiatives that fail to meet the magnitude and urgency of the crisis, the climate movement is agonizing over the riddle of what it's going to take to activate the world before it's irretrievably late.
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We're downing the Big Gulp. A supersize jolt of 400 parts per million of CO2 is carbonating the atmosphere and fizzing toward climate chaos.

In the face of climate policy inertiatives that fail to meet the magnitude and urgency of the crisis, the climate movement is agonizing over the riddle of what it's going to take to activate the world before it's irretrievably late.

Will it be the overwhelming accumulation of unnatural disasters that bring us to our knees?

Might it be new improved framing, a transformational tale of woe-become-opportunity that feverishly grips our story-based psyche?

Or perhaps the threat of high-powered economic competition from China to seize the renewable high ground and leave the US economy in the dust?

Or surely the lure of big profits for Big Business in the race to build the low-carbon economy?

Well, new scientific research is mounting that could prove to be the tipping point. It just got way too personal. Yes, early data suggests that global warming makes you fat. If anything could tip the scales, this could be it. Admittedly, the research is early and thin. But here's how it goes.

Danish researchers were mapping the lifestyles of thousands of Danes in the MONICA studies related to cardiovascular health and obesity. Lars-Georg Hersoug stumbled on a weird anomaly. Over a 22-year period, both thin and fat people put on weight, and the increase was proportionally the same.

CO2 appears to make our blood more acidic, which influences our brain to want to eat more. Hersoug surmised that excess CO2 in the atmosphere might be affecting hormones in the brain known as orexin neurons. Orexins stimulate eating, wakefulness and energy expenditure.

Further research set out to test Hersoug's hypothesis. A 2010 study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Britain's flagship biological research journal dedicated to high-quality research papers. It found that 24 populations of 8 species had gained weight in the last 50 years. That included lab animals in controlled settings where they ate the same diet over time. The probability of that occurring, says Hersoug, was one on 10 million.

In 2011, Danish researchers at the University of Copenhagen tested the theory on humans. Under controlled conditions, men with the greater amount of CO2 in their blood ate 6 percent more food than men in climate rooms with less CO2. Larger studies are now underway.

The hypothesis was published in the scientific journal "Nutrition and Diabetes" in 2012. As researcher Arne Astrup commented, "This could give us an explanation for why the entire population on this planet is increasing in body weight as soon as there is available food."

This being America, the fat is in the climate fire.

We could see a nightmare coalition arise, heavy hitters from Weight Watchers, Al Gore and the Weather Channel to Oprah, Michael Bloomberg, and the air conditioning industry. For the diet and diet publishing empire, it opens up the new bonanza of the Low-Carbon Diet, giving whole new meaning to low carbs.

But we know America's Biggest Loser needs to be the bloated fossil fuel financial-industrial-complex. The Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton and the rest of the Oiligarchy's fat cats have been throwing their weight around for far too long - and the atmosphere is getting nasty.

It's high time to put them on a low-carbon crash diet and trim down to 350 - parts per million, that is. True, the science isn't definitive yet. But by the time it is, it will be too late. We can't afford to chew the fat for another decade. This is a case for the precautionary principle - an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure.

After all, Dick Cheney advocated his 1% Doctrine: If there's a 1% chance of a "low-probability, high-impact event" such as terrorism using WMDs, or in this case climate catastrophe, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.

The weight of history is upon us. We have nothing to lose but our waistlines.

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