The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recorded the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere for around 800,000 years this week. According to readings taken from monitoring equipment in Hawaii, CO2 levels were over 402 parts per million (ppm) for two consecutive days this week.
Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, has been the center of attention for many years with regards to climate change because of its longevity in the atmosphere and the fact that it is released in high quantities by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels. Rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane are proposed to significantly contribute to global warming by trapping solar radiation in the atmosphere, preventing it from escaping back into space.
Last year CO2 levels crept above the 400 ppm threshold in May, which is the time of year that an annual spike usually occurs. The fact that levels are frighteningly high this early in the year suggests that the annual peak this year may be even higher. 400 ppm is no longer the danger measurement that it was once considered; it is now more symbolic than anything, but is still a worrying indication of an ongoing rise in carbon pollution.
According to Peter Gleick, a climatologist, “never in the history of the planet have humans altered the atmosphere as radically as we are doing so now.” These data come only days after the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which highlighted the need for a radical change in greenhouse gas emissions. It has been suggested that if CO2 levels continue to rise, so will global temperatures, which may have disastrous consequences such as a disruption of the global food supply and rising sea levels.
The fact that CO2 molecules can persist in the atmosphere for hundreds of years unfortunately means that even if we begin to clear up our act now, current high levels will have consequences on the Earth for many years to come.