It’s official, and it’s scary: on May 9, the daily average concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed the milestone level 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.
Hooray for us humanoids. We are destroying our planet even faster than we realized, and we are moving into uncharted territory.
By analyzing fossil air trapped in ancient ice, along with other data, researchers have determined that the last time levels were this high was at least three million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, long before the evolution of modern humans (that happened in East Africa, about 200,000 years ago). At the Pliocene time the Arctic was ice-free, the Sahara was covered in savannah, and the sea level was over 100 feet higher than it is today.
They believe that the Pliocene era conditions will return, with devastating consequences for human life, if emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are not rapidly cut back.
We Have Failed Miserably On Climate Change
From The Guardian:
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.
Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.
It’s not as if we haven’t been warned. A definitive scientific report in 2011 warned that extreme weather events linked to climate change will continue around the world in coming decades; President Obama spoke at his party’s convention in 2012 about his plan to continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet; the tab for last year’s extreme weather events in the U.S. will rise to well over $100 billion; the ice is melting in the Arctic.
We’ve been hearing these warnings for years, although of course if you live in Kansas or Oklahoma, your lawmakers will be encouraging you to deny the evidence.
But what we do know is that virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies. And despite all the warnings, global emissions of CO2 continue to soar.
China Now The Largest Emitter Of CO2
According to The New York Times, China is now the largest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels for far longer, so that means the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.
What do the experts say?
From The Guardian:
“It is symbolic, a point to pause and think about where we have been and where we are going,” said Professor Ralph Keeling, who oversees the measurements on a Hawaian volcano, which were begun by his father in 1958. “It’s like turning 50: it’s a wake up to what has been building up in front of us all along.”
I wonder how long it will take for things to get shockingly bad before they get better.
Need To Fight Big Oil And Big Coal
A Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe has called climate change a hoax. He isn’t the only one representing the interests of Big Oil. There are many barons of industry, including the Koch brothers, who seem to not care at all about the future of our planet, or of humanity. As long as they can make a profit from fossil fuels, they are happy.
Perhaps our first step should be to work at limiting their power, and getting rid of the politicians who take money from them.
The extreme speed at which CO2 in now rising, perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial times, has never been seen in geological records, and only by striving to reduce global emissions can we avoid the consequences of turning the climate clock back 3 million years.
This is a grim milestone. All our efforts at conservation, recycling, growing sustainable crops, are admirable, but only governments can make the big changes that are necessary to significantly reduce global emissions of CO2.
It’s time for change.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: thinkstock