Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Hits Pre-Human Levels

At this rate, damage from climate change will increase, experts say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 3, 2022 3:50 PM CDT
Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Hits Pre-Human Levels
A man wades into the ocean at sunset last June in Newport Beach, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has shot past a key milestone—more than 50% higher than pre-industrial times—and is at levels not seen since millions of years ago when Earth was a hothouse ocean-inundated planet, federal scientists announced Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, averaged 421 parts per million of carbon dioxide for May, which is when the crucial greenhouse gas hits its yearly high. Before the industrial revolution in the late 19th century, carbon dioxide levels were at 280 parts per million, scientists said, suggesting humans have significantly changed the atmosphere. Some activists and scientists want a level of 350 parts per million, the AP reports.

Levels of the gas continue to rise, though they need to be falling, scientists say. Industrial carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of coal, oil, and gas. This year's carbon dioxide level is nearly 1.9 ppm more than a year ago, a slightly bigger jump than from May 2020 to May 2021. "The world is trying to reduce emissions, and you just don't see it. In other words, if you're measuring the atmosphere, you're not seeing anything happening right now in terms of change," said NOAA climate scientist Pieter Tans, who tracks global greenhouse gas emissions. Outside scientists said the numbers show a severe climate change problem.

Without cuts in carbon pollution, University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles said that "we will see ever more damaging levels of climate change, more heat waves, more flooding, more droughts, more large storms, and higher sea levels." The pandemic slowdown did cut global carbon emissions a bit in 2020, but they rebounded last year. Both changes were small compared to how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere each year, especially considering that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere hundreds to a thousand years. NOAA said carbon dioxide levels are now about the same as 4.1 to 4.5 million years ago in the Pliocene era, when temperatures were 7 degrees higher and sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than now.

(Read more carbon dioxide stories.)

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