'We Don't Know a Planet Like This': CO2 Levels Hit 415 PPM for First Time in 3 Million+ Years

Authored by commondreams.org and submitted by anutensil

Atmospheric levels of carbon registered 415 parts per million over the weekend at one of the world's key measuring stations, a concentration level researchers say has not existed in more than 3 million years – before the dawn of human history.

Taken at the Mauno Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measure continues the upward trend of atmospheric carbon concentration that lies at the heart of the global warming and climate crisis:

415.26 parts per million (ppm) CO2 in air 11-May-2019 https://t.co/MGD5CTru41 First daily baseline over 415ppm — Keeling_Curve (@Keeling_curve) May 12, 2019

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, a journalist who covers the climate crisis for Grist, contextualized the latest readings in a tweet that was shared widely on Sunday:

This is the first time in human history our planet's atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2. 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. We don't know a planet like this. https://t.co/azVukskDWr — Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) May 12, 2019

One person responded to the Holthaus tweet by asking, "How is this not breaking news on all channels all over the world?"

Rich Pancost, head of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in the U.K., said that the best guess of the scientific community is that global atmospheric carbon levels have not been this high for "about 3 millions years... [m]aybe more."

To the best of our knowledge - about 3 million years. Maybe more.https://t.co/pUowvkGzYI pic.twitter.com/V19NSRug7e https://t.co/i83NMOUvaa — Rich Pancost (@rpancost) May 12, 2019

Writing on his Informed Comment blog Monday, historian Juan Cole said that life on Earth in that pre-historic era, known as the Pliocene Period, is not a place humans would recognize:

In the Pliocene, it was much hotter. In the Pliocene, oceans were much higher, maybe 90 feet higher. That is our fate, folks. That is what 415ppm produces. It is only a matter of time, and some of the sea level rise will come quickly. Amsterdam, New Orleans, Lisbon, Miami – the list of cities that will be submerged is enormous.

Elsewhere online, reaction to the unsettling milestone was met with a mix of frustration, alarm, and fresh demands for urgent action to address the crisis.

These broken records are starting to sound like a broken record. https://t.co/7kePdTwB6x — Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) May 13, 2019 Climate warning as global CO2 levels rise to highest point in millions of years#letsbanfossilfuelshttps://t.co/JW80kaBJ9h — Let's Ban Fossil Fuels (@ban_fossilfuels) May 13, 2019

Despite the new measurement, it is not as if humanity has not been endlessly warned that this is the path it's on.

"If the threshold seems unremarkable (it shouldn't)," wrote Jonathan Shieber at TechCrunch, "it's yet another indication of the unprecedented territory humanity is now charting as it blazes new trails toward environmental catastrophe."

The increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important because of its heat absorbing properties. The land and seas on the planet absorb and emit heat and that heat is trapped in carbon dioxide molecules. The NOAA likens CO2 to leaving bricks in a fireplace, that still emit heat after a fire goes out. Greenhouse gases contribute to the planet maintaining a temperature that can sustain life, but too much can impact the entire ecosystem that sustains us. That's what's happening now. As the NOAA notes, "increases in greenhouse gases have tipped the Earth's energy budget out of balance, trapping additional heat and raising Earth’s average temperature."

While scientists have stated that much of the future warming is already "locked in," Cole points out that humanity's main focus must be to make sure all efforts are made to reverse the emissions trend in order to limit the scale of the destruction.

"What can be stopped is its getting any worse," Cole concluded. "But that would require moving with blinding speed to wind and solar power and electric cars."

And the message from the global climate justice movement has been crystal clear: It's an emergency. Act like it.

LustfulGumby on May 13rd, 2019 at 15:55 UTC »

WHat are we supposed to do though? And I sincerely ask this as someone who is terrified. Drive less? Order less stuff online? I dont own a factory pumping pollution into the air. What the hell are "regular" people suppsoed to do about this?

christophalese on May 13rd, 2019 at 15:40 UTC »

Temperature increases beyond 1.0 °C may elicit rapid, unpredictable, and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage - United Nations Advisory of Greenhouse Gasses

We've landed ourselves in a situation of harrowing irony where our emissions have both risen CO2 and bought us time in the process. This is because dirty coal produces sulfates which cloud the atmosphere and act as a sunscreen. This sunscreen has prevented the level of warming we should have seen by now, but have avoided (kinda, keep reading). Here’s good example of this on a smaller scale:

In effect, the shipping industry has been carrying out an unintentional experiment in climate engineering for more than a century. Global mean temperatures could be as much as 0.25 ˚C lower than they would otherwise have been, based on the mean “forcing effect”

much has been done in the way of researching the extent of this (Aerosol Masking/Global Dimming)effect. Currently it is understood that Anthropogenic aerosols have already brought about a decrease of ∼2.53 K, Experiments based on the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 given in IPCC AR5 shows the dramatic decrease in three anthropogenic aerosols in 2100 will lead to an increase of ∼2.06 K That's not to say that we have truly avoided this warming. We simply kick the can down the road with these emissions. The warming is still there waiting, until the moment we no longer emit these sulfates. * Just 35% reduction in industrial output(emissions) would lead to 1C temperature rise. Depending on which scientist you ask, it could be as little as a week, or it could be up to 6 weeks. Regardless though, the warming is still there on the horizon. Worse though, It's been recently discovered this effect is actually more potent than we previously had estimated. By more than twice as much.

This all amounts to bad news because Nature: 2C temperatures exponentially increase likelihood of ice free summers and the Head of Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge says IPCC grossly underestimates blue ocean event frequency and timeline.

We, and all vertibrate species are reliant entirely on eachother and others in a way that is rapidly being threatened as seen in a recent-ish paper "Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines" from Ehrlich et. al. as well as "Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change" from Giovanni Strona & Corey J. A. Bradshaw. Furthermore, there are limits to adaptation.

We can only adapt so far. 5C global average temperature rise is our absolute survivable wet bulb threshold. This is illustrated in "An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress"" from Steven C. Sherwood and Matthew Huber

What this culminates to is a clear disconnect in what is understood in the literature and what is being described as a timeline by various sources. How can one assume we can continue on this path until 2030,2050,2100? How could this possibly be? We are on an unstable trajectory and we need to act now or our children and us alike will suffer.

TheSanityInspector on May 13rd, 2019 at 15:19 UTC »

This measurement, The Keeling Curve, is simple and undeniable. A CO2 detector has been stationed atop this extinct Hawaiian volcano since the early 1960s, well away from any artificial sources which would mess up the readings. It's shown an upward track ever since it first began its readings. I remember when it exceeded the 400 ppm mark some years back. You can argue with ice cores, tree rings, satellite data--but you can't argue with The Keeling Curve.