For the first time in human history, carbon dioxide levels reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million, as reported this week. The last time the atmosphere contained this much carbon dioxide was 3 million years ago.
This new data comes from the Mauna Loa observatory and a set of data continuously collected since 1958: The Keeling curve. This represents almost a 50% increase since the beginning of the industrial age. Although there is some seasonal variability (that little jagged edge) due to seasonal vegetation sucking up a bit of the CO2 every year, the trend is clear … and it’s not good.
So what does that mean? The effects are not something to look forward to. The last time the CO2 level was this high, way back when, here’s what the world was like:
Back then, it was a different world. Global average temperatures during the period were between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) higher than today, and sea level was as much as 131 feet (40 meters) higher in some places.
While the average (which is calculated from levels over the past several days) has since dropped back to 399 (as of today), the saddest part is that both of those numbers are unacceptable. 400 is just a little more catchy. With 401 and beyond right around the corner, what now? We must cut emissions as fast as humanly possible.
Because we are mighty humans, and it is possible.
We need to take care, because we all share this air. Read about the science of our CO2 contribution here. Watch this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart to gain some hope maybe.
What do you think is the #1 thing we can do to change? What are YOU willing to do?
This milestone got some buzz this week. These articles don’t show the harsh reality that billions of people are going to buy cars, laptops, cell phones, homes with lightswitches, heat, and A/C, and all the luxury goods we westerners enjoy.
Countless tens of millions of miles of roads, power lines, fiber optic cable, drinking water and sewer pipes, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure are slated to be built for decades on end.
There is no way emissions will stop growing. Every projection shows this (see the preeminent IEA’s ‘Fact Sheets’ to sober up).
The question is not, What are you willing to do? No, it’s Who is going to deny billions and billions of people in China, south Asia, Africa, India, South America, and eastern Europeans from accessing these goods and services in the coming years? Who’s going to stop growth?
Michael adds good counterpoint and perspective to my earlier comments. There is a harsh reality of expectation that Western affluence has created in developing countries, and that expectation is that everyone should have a shot at the life and luxuries that we have enjoyed for so long.
It’s hard not to just throw up your arms and just make exasperated sounds, right? Is it this hopeless? I don’t want it to be hopeless. Because hopeless is close to helpless, and we still have the power to minimize change.
So maybe a better question is what are you willing to do to adapt?
It’s not hopeless because even at 400 ppm…even at 500 ppm, we’ll keep being people and loving each other. We may have to build a levy around New York City and…y’know…give up on New Orleans. There will be famines and wars and that will suck, but there have always been famines and wars.
The question is no longer “what will we do to prevent climate change” but “what will we do to deal with it.” If we begin spending money now not just mitigating our impacts, but preparing for the repercussions of climate change, we will save ourselves a lot of pain.
Reblogging for Hank’s comments, which are awesome, as usual.
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