Scientists urge the world to wake up as yet another dire climate record is broken

A drought-ridden landscape
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We have known about this for half a century, and have failed to do anything meaningful about it. What’s it going to take for us to wake up?

These were the words of the Global Monitoring Laboratory’s senior scientist Pieter Tans as the world hit another dire climate milestone. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography released its CO2 readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in the US on 3 June. They showed that we continue to hurtle full steam ahead towards climate disaster, with a new record smashed.

But, as Tans’ comments indicate, there are few signs that those who wield power will wake up. Indeed, just days before the CO2 figures were revealed, the UK authorities greenlit another fossil fuel project.

A new record

As the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) highlighted on 3 June, the latest readings push the world “further into territory not seen for millions of years”. CO2 peaked at 421 parts per million (ppm) in May. This is generally the month of the year where CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach their yearly peak; September/October is usually the lowest annual point.

NOAA said this means current levels are 50% higher than in pre-industrial times. It’s industrialisation, particularly epic amounts of fossil fuel extraction and combustion, that has brought us to this dire point. And each year, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere keep rising. In 2020, the CO2 peak was 417ppm. As Al Jazeera reported, in 2021 it was 419ppm.

What does this mean?

Pre-industrial levels of CO2 were around 280ppm. As NASA has pointed out, levels in the 1950s hovered around 317ppm. But since then we’ve seen an over 100ppm rise. In the distant past – four million years ago – CO2 levels were similar to our current ones, but sea levels were five to 40 metres higher. The world was also three to four degrees hotter, and it had no people either.

As Tans put it, CO2 is now at levels that “our species has never experienced before”. Needless to say, the experience of having such excessive levels of heat-trapping gases like CO2 and methane in the atmosphere isn’t shaping up to be a good one.

The western US, for example, is currently facing what NASA warns is one of its worst ever droughts. NASA hydrologist JT Reager explained to the BBC:

With climate change, it seems like the dominoes are beginning to fall.

We get warmer temperatures, we get less precipitation [rain] and snow. The reservoirs start drying up, then in a place like the West, we get wildfires.

It’s like watching this slow motion catastrophe kind of unfold.

However, for the most part, those least responsible for the emissions are facing the most extreme consequences:

This includes East Africa, which may face an “unprecedented” poor rainy season for the fifth time in a row, according to the World Meteorological Organization:

As the African Wildlife Foundation has highlighted, the drought there has been destructive for people, wildlife, and peaceful coexistence between them:

Full speed ahead

Nonetheless, despite their rhetoric, most governments are doing little to meaningfully address the climate and biodiversity disasters. Indeed, as the Guardian reported, three ex-UN climate chiefs recently warned that current plans invite “catastrophic” climate meltdown.

The UK is a case in point, with its recent greenlighting of the Jackdaw gas field:

The UK isn’t alone, however. There are multiple fossil fuel projects progressing around the world. In an investigation in May, the Guardian illustrated the vast scale of the “carbon bombs” fossil fuel companies have in the pipeline.

In short, to echo Tans’ words, authorities are still failing to do anything meaningful about the environmental crises we face. Thanks to them, as Scripps’ geochemist Ralph Keeling noted, we are “still racing at top speed towards a global catastrophe”.

Featured image via Fouquier / Flickr, cropped to 770×403, licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

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