“We don’t know a planet like this” – this is how meteorologist Eric Holthaus reacted to the news that finds atmospheric CO2 levels reaching to their highest point for the first time since millions of years of human evolution. The rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels has broken all the records in the entirety of human existence.
The data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii disclosed the concentration of over 415 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere which is much more higher compared to at any given point in the last 800,000 years ever since the evolution of human species.
As spotted by Holthaus, the new high was tweeted out Sunday by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which is responsible for measuring the daily rates of CO2 at Mauna Loa together with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.
The program of measuring CO2 started in 1958 by the late Charles David Keeling, for whom the graph of increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is named the “Keeling Curve,” and it is continuing.
“This is the first time in human history our planet’s atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2,” Holthaus said in a widely shared tweet.
“Not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago,” exclaimed Holthaus.
It is believed that CO2 levels topped out somewhere between 310 to 400 ppm around 3 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch, with global temperatures estimated at 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than that at present.
During the Pliocene, the Arctic was not covered in ice, but trees and temperatures in summer believed to reach as high as 15C (60F) in the far north. Global sea levels were assumed to remain higher than today at a whopping 25 meters (82 feet), if not more than that.
An Overview of the Devastating Effects
The burning of fossil fuels and cutting down forests by humans resulted in high CO2 levels in the atmosphere that prevent the Earth’s natural cooling cycle from working. The heat gets trapped near the surface, and global temperatures keep on rising with devastating effects.
There is already a 1C rise in global temperatures due to the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and we are likely locked in for a further temperatures rise unless the governments around the world take immediate action.
Around 37% of the world’s population will be exposed to one severe heatwave at least every five years. The droughts’ average length will increase by four months, rendering around 388 million people to water shortage while another 194.5 million people to experience severe droughts.
The extreme weather conditions like cyclones, typhoons will increase along with flooding along with more frequent wildfires and decrease in crop yields. With some 1 million species at risk of extinction, animal life will be devastated. Mosquitoes, however, will thrive, exposing further 27% of the planet to the risk of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
All these and many more to happen at 2 degrees, and this target is increasingly becoming a hopeful one. We enter a “hothouse Earth” stage where a temperature rise of 3 or 4 degrees may even make many places of the earth uninhabitable.
All these have been predicted for decades now, and we even know what to do to stop it. It requires a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, creation of carbon sinks, reforestation, new carbon capture technologies, and other innovations, or, remain prepared for what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, “Rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
It is possible, and many are organizing to try to force their governments to take action, but there is little time to avoid a world, which we do not know to handle.