Global carbon dioxide in atmosphere passes milestone level

by Randy Shannon

Have you ever almost wrecked your vehicle and gotten it under control at the last moment before disaster. I’ve had several close calls with bikes and cars.

100% of scientists say that Earth is on the verge of a disaster. The corporate media is telling you there’s a controversy; there is none. CO2 levels are at 400ppm, a new milestone, and rapidly rising. If CO2 emissions are not curbed quickly now many of Earth’s major cities will be under water in our lifetime.

Corporate-owned politicians must be replaced with brave souls who will stand up to oil, gas, coal, and Wall Street. Get organized or our children and grandchildren will curse us.

Global carbon dioxide in atmosphere passes milestone level

Climate warming greenhouse gas reaches 400 parts per million for the first time in human history


Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory, where record CO2 increases are being documented. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP

For the first time in human history, the concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today.

These conditions are expected to return in time, with devastating consequences for civilisation, unless emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are rapidly curtailed. But despite increasingly severe warnings from scientists and a major economic recession, global emissions have continued to soar unchecked.

“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.”

“The passing of this milestone is a significant reminder of the rapid rate at which – and the extent to which – we have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” said Prof Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which serves as science adviser to the world’s governments. “At the beginning of industrialisation the concentration of CO2 was just 280ppm. We must hope that the world crossing this milestone will bring about awareness of the scientific reality of climate change and how human society should deal with the challenge.”

The world’s governments have agreed to keep the rise in global average temperature, which have already risen by over 1C, to 2C, the level beyond which catastrophic warming is thought to become unstoppable. But the International Energy Agency warned in 2012 that on current emissions trends the world will see 6C of warming, a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. With no slowing of emissions seen to date, there is already mounting pressure on the UN summit in Paris in 2015, which is the deadline set to settle a binding international treaty to curb emissions.

Edward Davey, the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, said: “This isn’t just a symbolic milestone, it’s yet another piece of clear scientific evidence of the effect human activity is having on our planet. I’ve made clear I will not let up on efforts to secure the legally binding deal the world needs by 2015 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

Two CO2 monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa are run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and provide the global benchmark measurement. Data released on Friday shows the daily average has passed 400ppm for the first time in its half century of recording. The level peaks in May each year as the CO2 released by decaying vegetation is taken up by renewed plant growth in the northern hemisphere, where the bulk of plants grow.

Analysis of fossil air trapped in ancient ice and other data indicate that this level has not been seen on Earth for 3-5 million years, a period called the Pliocene. At that time, global average temperatures were 3 or 4C higher than today’s and 8C warmer at the poles. Reef corals suffered a major extinction while forests grew up to the northern edge of the Arctic Ocean, a region which is today bare tundra.

“I think it is likely that all these ecosystem changes could recur,” said Richard Norris, a colleague of Keeling’s at Scripps. The Earth’s climate system takes time to adjust to the increased heat being trapped by high greenhouse levels and it may take hundreds of years for the great ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland to melt to the small size of the Pliocence and sea level far above many of the world’s major cities.

But the extreme speed at which CO2 in now rising – perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial time – has never been seen in geological records and some effects of climate change are already being seen, with extreme heatwaves and flooding now more likely. Recent wet and cold summer weather in Europe has been linked to changes in the high level jetstream winds, in turn linked to the rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic, which shrank to its lowest recorded level in September.

“We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “Only by urgently reducing global emissions will we be able to avoid the full consequences of turning back the climate clock by 3 million years.”

“The 400ppm threshold is a sobering milestone and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren,” said Tim Lueker, a carbon cycle scientist at Scripps.

Professor Bob Watson, former IPCC chair and UK government chief scientific adviser, said: “Passing 400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is indeed a landmark and the rate of increase is faster than ever and shows no sign of abating due to a lack of political committment to address the urgent issue of climate change – the world is now most likely committed to an increase in surface temperature of 3C-5C compared to pre-industrial times.”

The graph of the rising CO2 at Mauna Loa is known as the Keeling curve, after the late Dave Keeling, the scientist who began the measurements in March 1958. The isolated Hawaiian island is a good location for measurements as it is far from the main sources of CO2, meaning it represents a good global average.

2 thoughts on “Global carbon dioxide in atmosphere passes milestone level”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Randy.
    Humans have a difficult time contemplating non-linear or exponential change. What is happening to the atmosphere now is incomprehensible, given the weak scientific education of the average citizen combined with the effective propaganda campaign against effective action on climate disruption waged by the fossil fuel lobby.

    Here’s what is going to happen if we do nothing: the Arctic ice sheet will collapse, probably by 2015. 1000 gigatons of methane hydrates on the shallow sea shelf in the high latitudes held in suspension only by cold temps will be released by the rapidly warming sea since instead of reflecting 90% of sunlight it will be absorbing 90%. Consider that there are only 5 Gtons of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) in the atmosphere now. Storms formally suppressed by the ice cap will churn the bottom while warm infiltrating water from the southern seas as well as warm water from the large rivers will cause large plumes of CH4 to rise straight into the atmosphere, setting up an accelerating feedback effect, perhaps including the release of another 700 Gtons of free methane gas below the hydrates. Adding to this will be the inevitable fires that will ignite the tundra as the permafrost melts. The high latitude soils hold the largest concentrations of carbon on the planet, including another 500Gtons of CH4. Huge releases of soot and volatile organic compounds (as well as lots more CO2) will settling on the remaining ice, including the glaciers that billions of people depend on for their water supplies, speeding their melting. first floods then drought. Runaway greenhouse effect as all the positive feedback loops overwhelm the negative ones.
    Even before this happens (and it can well happen a very few years), the world agricultural system will have collapsed. Already, the weakening of the jet stream winds which form the boundary between the tropics and the poles is causing severe disruption of the stable climate humans have enjoyed for only 10000 years. The conditions of the Pliocene have been the norm on this planet: Intense hydrological cycles that rule out agriculture in any practical form. How are we going to feed 7+ billion people if our major grain producing regions go dustbowl literally overnight? You will want to keep your firearms within reach so you can blow your brains out as civilization disintegrates.

    But of course this is all wild fantasy cooked up by pointy headed college professors and socialist politicians. See you in hell 😉

  2. People on the street still believe that global warming is a hoax. Big oil and gas can not wait to get to the artic to capture the methane.Only the market , yes thats you, can stop the insanity. How we spend and invest controls the outcome of all capital businesses.Oil , gas, coal, and tar sands are controlled by who buys their products. As they say, put your money where your mouth is. It starts with you !

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