Over the past 150 years, human activities have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years. But according to scientists, the world’s air has a reached a new milestone in terms of pollution with carbon dioxide levels.
Scientists have monitored stations across the Arctic and are finding that there are more than 400 parts per million of heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The last time our planet saw carbon dioxide levels this high is 800,000 years ago, according to the scientists. They’re quick to acknowledge that the shock isn’t from the quantitative value, but instead, the surprise is how quickly this value is accelerating.
Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo., told the Associated Press:
“The fact that it’s 400 is significant. It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”
The increase in carbon dioxide levels can be credited to man-made causes, mainly burning fossil fuels. And the proof is in the numbers: Prior to the Industrial Age, when carbon dioxide came from natural sources like decomposing plants and animals, the levels were about 275 part per millions. But since the Industrial Revolution in the 1700′s, activity by man (e.g., burning of oil, coal and gas, and deforestation) has taken a key part in increasing the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
Former Vice President Al Gore said in an email to the Associated Press:
The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders – with a few honorable exceptions – are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis. History will not understand or forgive them.
The concern behind the high carbon dioxide content–C02 is a greenhouse gas–is because it is the main pollutant and stays in our atmosphere for around 100 years, if not thousands. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide is responsible for about half of the 1-degree increase in average surface temperatures in the past century.
While globally we are at 395 parts per million, scientists predict that we will pass the 400 milestone within a few years. And the bad news doesn’t stop there–the International Energy Agency announced last week that the global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was up 3.2 percent hiting a record high of 34.8 billion tons in 2011.
Many skeptics may accurately argue that plants will lower the levels in the summer, but the raising levels are still a point of concern since a 2010 study at the Carnegie Institution for Science found that a spike in Co2 results in diminishing a plant’s ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and in turn, adds to global warming. In essence, not only do high carbon dioxide rates make our planet warmer, but they also inhibit plants from doing their part to removing excess Co2.
Photo by Seth Anderson