Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are highest in history
(CN) — The levels of carbon dioxide are the highest in human history, according to federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A measurement taken at the Mauna Lua Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii Friday revealed that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 420 parts per million, nearly 70 units above the generally agreed-upon safe levels of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad. “The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a stark reminder that we need to take urgent, serious steps to become a more climate ready nation.”
The number means carbon dioxide, generated by the burning of fossil fuels, some agricultural practices and deforestation, is at 50% higher levels than before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century when carbon dioxide levels were hovering around 280 parts per million.
The reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, where many people in many countries stayed at home for large parts of 2020, meant that carbon emissions temporarily dipped around the globe. But in 2021, humans disgorged 36 billion tons of carbon into Earth’s atmosphere in 2021, among the highest single-year totals ever, contributing to another rise in carbon dioxide levels.
Carbon dioxide contributes to what is called a greenhouse effect, where they act as a glass pane trapping heat that would otherwise exit back into space after bouncing off the Earth’s surface. This means that surface area temperatures around the globe are about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were before the 1860s.
Warming temperatures create more extreme weather events such as prolonged drought, increased wildfires of greater intensity and more frequent storms that can also be more damaging.
The warming of surface temperatures creates other environmental effects, such as the melting of the polar ice caps, which can increase the surface level of the oceans, endangering communities and property on coastlines around the globe. Islands such as the Maldivian archipelago are also particularly susceptible to rising oceans.
The ocean is also becoming more acidic, according to scientific readings, due to the increased carbon absorption as a result of the increased levels of fossil fuel burning. The acidification can affect marine life and other aspects of oceanic ecosystems that could eventually harm human’s ability to get valuable and necessary food sources.
“It’s depressing that we’ve lacked the collective willpower to slow the relentless rise in CO2,” said Charles Keeling, a scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Keeling was one of the first scientists to institute the measurement of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“Fossil-fuel use may no longer be accelerating, but we are still racing at top speed towards a global catastrophe,” Keeling said.
However, some scientists downplay the catastrophic effects of climate change, noting how fewer people die from natural disasters now than they did before the Industrial Revolution. In 1937, about 3.7 million people died from natural disasters, compared to 11,000 in 2018.
However, there is a growing scientific consensus that the climate is changing because of humans burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere and that the impacts of a steadily warming climate could hurt the biodiversity of Planet Earth.
For instance, wildfires in Australia are thought to be at least partially driven by climate change and have cut down the population of koala bears considerably.
Friday’s measurements show that carbon dioxide levels are the highest they have been since a geological epoch that occurred 4 million years ago, when the planet was seven degrees hotter and the ocean may have been as much as 75 feet higher. If ocean levels rose by 75 feet in the contemporary work, it would drown many of the world’s major cities, including Venice, San Francisco, Barcelona and New York City.