The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that carbon dioxide levels measured in May at the Mauna Loa Observatory reached a value of 421 parts per million. This is 50% greater than pre-industrial levels and is in a range not seen on earth for millions of years.
Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels fairly steadily measured around 280 parts per million, pretty much for all 6,000 years of human civilization. Since the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, humans have generated an estimated 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 pollution, much of which will continue to warm the atmosphere for thousands of years.
The present levels of carbon dioxide are comparable to those of an era known as the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, which took place over 4 million years ago.
The bulk of the human-generated carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels for transportation and electrical generation, from cement and steel manufacturing, and from the depletion of natural carbon sinks caused by deforestation, agriculture, and other human impacts on the natural environment.
Humans are altering the climate in ways that are dramatically affecting the economy, infrastructure, and ecosystems across the planet. By trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space, greenhouse gases are causing the atmosphere to warm steadily, leading to increasingly erratic weather episodes ranging from extreme heat, droughts, and wildfires, to heavier precipitation, flooding, and tropical storm activity.
The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a sober reminder that we need to take serious steps to try to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Carbon dioxide now more than 50% higher than pre-industrial levels
Photo, posted December 20, 2016, courtesy of Kevin Casey Fleming via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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