Environment

Atmospheric carbon dioxide hits the highest point in human existence

Atmospheric carbon dioxide hit...
Concentration of atmospheric CO2 has now hit 415.26 ppm, the highest point in human history
Concentration of atmospheric CO2 has now hit 415.26 ppm, the highest point in human history
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Concentration of atmospheric CO2 has now hit 415.26 ppm, the highest point in human history
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Concentration of atmospheric CO2 has now hit 415.26 ppm, the highest point in human history

The fact that we humans are pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the air is well-known, but the extent to which the gas is building up in the atmosphere continues to surprise scientists, and not in a good way. The latest readings of atmospheric CO2 concentration reveal that it is now at levels never reached before in the entirety of human existence. As one meteorologist puts it, "We don't know a planet like this."

Back in 2016, scientists warned that we had moved into "uncharted territory" as atmospheric CO2 levels tipped to more than 400 parts per million over the South Pole, which was the last region on Earth to pass this threshold. As a point of reference, 350 ppm is a concentration that experts consider safe – the international environmental organization 350.org even dedicates its name to such effect.

For years, the UN has been warning that the world has to go beyond the requirements of the Paris Agreement and do more to rein in global carbon emissions, even calling for immediate action after late last year stating that "we are running out of time."

And new measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, gathered by scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are a rather clear indicator of what that inaction looks like. Known as the Keeling Curve since its inception in 1958, the graph tracks the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the latest reading, taken on May 11, shows that concentration to be 415.26 ppm.

"This is the first time in human history our planet's atmosphere has had more than 415 ppm CO2," tweeted meteorologist Eric Holthaus, after promptly picking up on the news. "Not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago. We don't know a planet like this."

If carbon emissions continue unabated, they are expected to drive up global temperatures at the same time. But something of an unknown is what effect this will have on the planet. Scientists warn that an increase of 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels would limit the severity of more intense storms, flooding, sea-level rise and the loss of agriculture and ecosystems. The bad news is we are currently on track to go far beyond that.

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography via Eric Holthaus

18 comments
guzmanchinky
The ONLY way out is technology. People will NEVER change their need/greed for power. Until we have free unlimited electricity (fusion?) and with it the ability to suck CO2 out of the air nothing will change.
aksdad
"This is the first time in human history our planet's atmosphere has had more than 415 ppm CO2 since before modern humans existed millions of years ago. We don't know a planet like this." Ha ha haaaa! Right. The desperate cries of an alarmist. CO2 was much higher millions of years ago and flora and fauna managed to survive and thrive. According to the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, CO2 levels differ by 15 ppm or more all over the earth and Mauna Loa happens to be in an area where concentrations appear to be higher than other places. So "average" CO2 over the globe is certainly not 415 ppm. But at Mauna Loa it is. Atmospheric levels of CO2 have been going up steadily since we've been measuring it. Most people attribute it to burning fossil fuels; however CO2 levels have fluctuated a lot over millions of years, long before humans were burning fossil fuels, and no one yet understands what caused those fluctuating levels. Until that is known, it is premature to blame all of the recent increase on humans. Since CO2 is a benign trace gas and essential for all plant life, to say that 415 ppm (or 405 ppm) is somehow worse than the arbitrarily-chosen 280 ppm is not based on any objective scientific data. It's mere speculation by alarmists. In fact, the higher levels of CO2 have, objectively, improved plant efficiency and greened the planet. We call that winning.
Crazyoldranga
No mention of the other gases in the atmosphere and their concentration, which I find odd. Also, I am still waiting for someone to explain exactly HOW CO2 causes warming.
RobertEhresman
CO2 optical saturation happened over 10 years ago. More produces no additional warming. "All of human existence" is a tiny blip on the geohistory of climate. Less than one ice age. Stupid people believe stupid things.
Nobody
Did anyone else note that they are comparing CO2 levels at the south pole to the levels on an actively erupting volcano??? If they were looking for an increase, how about comparing comparable locations??? Also claiming that the levels have never been this high during the age of humans may not be true. Claiming that 350ppm is safe may well not be true either. Unfortunately, science and politics are being blended in a very deceptive manner. The debate over cigarettes went on for years just like the current debate over "Roundup" will. Scientists saying what they are paid to say.
Johannes
@Crazyoldranga: Svante Arrhenius first proposed the link over 100 years ago. Look him up. @aksdad: the point of this article is that this is the highest atmospheric CO2 content in human history. Clearly the earth has been here for billions of years, and life forms also for much of that time. But humans haven't, and humans in the current highly-biosphere-dependent form for only thousands of years. You're fooling yourself if you think that the way we live now will survive another hundred or so years. @RobertE: Arrhenius' equation for heating of earth's surface doesn't have a limit, and it's by no means clear that limits associated with laser radiation apply to solar irradiance.
Pmeon
400 ppm is 0.04%. Water vapour in the atmosphere varies between 1 and 4%. It too is a green house gas, cloudy days are cooler than clear sunny days. Cloudy nights are hotter than clear nights. So let's start a champaign to tax everyone on the planet for water vapour in the air. That should be fun. Al Gore's movie "an inconvenient truth" tried to show the connection between global warming in the past to CO2 levels, only problem was the CO2 levels followed the global warming, it didn't lead it. The sun is not a constant source of thermal radiation, it has 3 main clock cycles, the solar sunspot cycle of 11 years, the Gliessberg cycle of 87 years (varies from 70 to 100 years) and the grand cycle of 12068 years. Do a search for Carrington event 1859, and solar event 7 July 1958. That should be the focus of alarm. I also think the image of the water vapour coming out of the cooling towers reinforces my point of the relative insignificance of CO2.
HighlanderJuan
I find this article interesting, but probably false. It appears that fear and dread of the evil CO2 is bogus to many, including Princeton professor Maller. It is Maller's belief that there is actually a shortage of CO2 in the atmosphere. https://youtu.be/U-9UlF8hkhs Climate change? There may be some, but no one seems to want to talk about the elephant in the room, namely government's use of chemtrail sprays and HAARP to use weather as a military weapon against humanity.
Cryptonoetic
Since 415 ppm is well above the "safe" 350 ppm, then may I conclude that it's too late to do anything? Even if all humanity were to vanish this day then, according to the experts, the earth is still doomed. I can no longer abide the doomers unless and until they promote nuclear power as the energy source to replace carbon fuels. Otherwise, I cannot believe they are all that serious about a supposedly doomed earth and that the truth of their agenda lies elsewhere.
piperTom
This article admits that there is "something of an unknown is what effect this will have on the planet". Congrats on that point. Most writers will jump from "something is changing" to "catastrophe!" without any evidence for the later. I'm on somewhat the same page as guzmanchinky, except more optimistic. One thing that surely will NOT help: the U.S. Congress. Legislatures of all stripes are good at only one thing: funneling money and privilege to themselves and their cronies.