Carbon dioxide hits a level not seen for 3 million years. Here’s what that means for climate change — and humanity.
Carbon dioxide reaches a level not seen for 3 million years. It means for climate change – and for humanity:
Scientists are worried about possible catastrophic changes in our environment.
In the recent bad news for a planet in the grip of climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere reached a level that did not even exist more than 3 million years ago – even before humans only appeared on the Rocky Ball, which we call home.
Sensors from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii said Saturday that greenhouse gas concentrations, a by-product of burning fossil fuels, had reached 415 ppm (parts per million), which is equivalent to million molecules of gas in the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide captures the heat of the sun, and higher levels are associated with higher global temperatures and other effects of climate change, such as: As the sea rises and unusual weather conditions.
CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased by an average of 2.5 ppm per year over the last decade and reached 400 ppm in 2013 – and it is likely that this level will continue to increase by that time.
“We are moving toward a state very different from the one in which humans have evolved and where civilization has evolved,” said Ralph Keeling, geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California.
The Pliocene was the last time the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide was so high; it was between 5.3 and 2.6 million years old. According to Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University, the sea level was about 50 feet higher than today, and the forests grew north of the Arctic. “Earth was a very different place,” he said. “You would barely recognize the surface of the ground, and my God, we do not want to go.”
But there are indications that the planet is moving in that direction. If current trends continue, the carbon footprint could reach 500 ppm within 30 years, which could increase global temperatures by at least 2 degrees Celsius.
“At the current rate, we could accomplish this at many stages of life,” said Keeling about the dark stage ahead.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is usually represented by a diagram called Keeling Curve, named after Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling. It began in 1958 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii with daily measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The graph shows a strong increase due to man-made climate change.
As the planet approaches 500 ppm, scientists are worried about the possibility of catastrophic environmental change. “None of these numbers is really a threshold in that something specific happens when we cross them,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. told NBC News MACH an e-mail. “But as we go through them, we are accelerating climate change, and the impact and damage will continue to increase.”
However, it is difficult to say exactly what and when these changes will occur. Some things, such as vegetation loss and sea ice cover, are becoming more visible in the short term. Other things, such as melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, are slower. “But these effects will continue for a very long time,” said Dana Royer, professor of geo and environmental science at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. “Once that happens, we can not really cancel it.”
Although the transition to renewable energy and other measures help to reduce the steady flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, our offspring are likely to suffer the negative consequences of artificially increasing their CO2 content.
“We will not see all the consequences of 415 ppm of carbon dioxide today,” Jackson said. “It will take a thousand years for people – 30 generations of people – to pay the price of what we are doing today.