CO2 in the atmosphere has hit a level not seen in all of human history

A photo of a power station emitting smoke alongside a photo of melted icebergs.
Bryan Wall

The level of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere has hit levels never seen before in human history. According to the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the amount of CO2 has now reached 415.26 parts per million in the atmosphere. The last time CO2 was at this sort of level was over three million years ago.

Scientists noted the record as it was also reported that temperatures in the Arctic hit a new high. Observers recorded temperatures of over 29°C in the city of Arkhangelsk in Russia over the weekend of 11 May. By comparison, the average high temperature is usually 12°C at that time of the year.

Reacting to the record

On Twitter, journalists and scientists alike voiced their concern at the CO2 record. Meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus pointed out that this counts as a first in all of human history:

Scientist Ralph Keeling said a rise like this is just not normal and calls into question the sustainability of our current behaviours:

But Greenpeace argued that news like this is nothing new or surprising at this stage:

And a Twitter account which provides daily updates on the level of CO2 in the atmosphere put the explosion of CO2 into perspective. It showed CO2 levels are on an “upward trajectory”:

Taking the initiative?

Certain countries have taken steps trying to lessen the impact of climate breakdown. For example, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she plans to make Germany carbon neutral by 2050. She said governments can do this by storing excess CO2 or by ‘offsetting it’.

The Irish parliament recently voted to declare “a climate and biodiversity emergency”. This made Ireland the second country in the world to do so. In spite of this, Ireland still lags behind other EU countries when it comes to its use of renewable energy.

And although a recent headline in the Irish Times stated that Ireland went “25 days without using coal to generate electricity”, it didn’t show the full picture. In fact, electricity generated via renewable sources only made up 30% of the power. The largest part of the fuel mix during this period was gas, which made up 60%.

What next?

Climate chaos is only going to continue to worsen as our governments twiddle their thumbs and try to buy time. But there is no buying time. People have to act now.

Climate journalist David Wallace-Wells argued that we have gone very far in the wrong direction:

And atmospheric chemist Dr Heather Price used events in her life to point out just how quickly the situation has got out of hand:

Because of this, we have to take the initiative ourselves. We must ensure that we leave a planet worth living on to our children. And if we don’t, they will be right to condemn us all.

Featured image via Pixabay – nikolabelopitov / Wikimedia – Brocken Inaglory

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Want to know more about climate change? Support Greenpeace, Campaign Against Climate Change, Friends of the Earth, and 350.
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  • Show Comments
    1. “The IPCC report that the Paris agreement based its projections on considered over 1,000 possible scenarios. Of those, only 116 (about 10%) limited warming below 2C. Of those, only 6 kept global warming below 2C without using negative emissions. So roughly 1% of the IPCC’s projected scenarios kept warming below 2C without using negative emissions technology like BECCS. And Kevin Anderson, former head of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has pointed out that those 6 lone scenarios showed global carbon emissions peaking in 2010. Which obviously hasn’t happened.
      So from the IPCC’s own report in 2014, we basically have a 1% chance of staying below 2C global warming if we now invent time travel and go back to 2010 to peak our global emissions. And again, you have to stop all growth and go into decline to do that. And long term feedbacks the IPCC largely blows off were ongoing back then too.”
      https://www.facebook.com/wxclimonews/posts/455366638536345

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