Earth Recently Passed a Carbon Dioxide Milestone

September 29th 2016

Tricia Tongco

Earthlings, brace yourselves: Levels of carbon dioxide have hit a historic high.

According to a recent blog post by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, "Recent daily and weekly values have remained above 400 parts per million. From this it’s already clear that the monthly value for September will be above 400 ppm, probably around 401 ppm."

"Their findings are based on weekly observations of carbon dioxide at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, where climate scientists have been measuring CO2 levels since 1958," Motherboard reported, and while Mauna Loa was not the first place to reach this high (the Arctic crossed this point back in 2012) Mauna Loa generally has a cyclical shift.

From Scripps:

"We are now approaching the annual low point in the Mauna Loa CO2 curve, which typically happens around the last week of September but varies slightly from year to year. Recent daily and weekly values have remained above 400 parts per million. From this it’s already clear that the monthly value for September will be above 400 ppm, probably around 401 ppm. September is typically but not always the lowest month of the year."

The Scripps blog post also warns that it's not likely that the low point will be in October:

"Is it possible that October 2016 will yield a lower monthly value than September and dip below 400 ppm? Almost impossible. Over the past two decades, there were four years (2002, 2008, 2009, and 2012) in which the monthly value for October was LOWER than September."

Why is this important? Scientists have long warned that reaching the 400 ppm "tipping point" would mean more devastating climate change impacts.

These historic carbon dioxide levels and unprecedented global temperatures are not only a problem in and of themselves, but the speed at which we are reaching them is also an issue, the Guardian reported.

"[C]limate change is about the rate of change," Dr. David Etheridge, a principal research scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), told the Guardian. "This is all coming at us very quickly and the increases are faster than anything we have seen in history. That’s a big issue."

According to a piece on The Conversation — written by Paul Krummel and Dr. Paul Fraser of CSIRO after levels at Casey Station in Antarctica passed the 400 ppm mark earlier this year — the 400 ppm is a "largely symbolic" milestone, and the rate at which carbon dioxide levels are increasing per year is what we should be paying attention to:

"The 400 ppm level of atmospheric CO₂ is largely symbolic. The real concern is the current rate at which this figure is increasing: roughly 3 ppm per year. If this were to continue for another two decades, we would pass 450 ppm of CO₂. Once that level is reached, the levels of all greenhouse gases put together (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and synthetic greenhouse gases) would add up to the equivalent of about 550 ppm of CO₂."

The Cape Grim station, which measures CO2 levels on Tasmania, also passed the 400 ppm marker in May of 2016.

Here are the consequences of our rapidly changing climate.

From starving polar bears to luxury cruises sailing through the melted Arctic, glaring signs of climate change are hard to ignore. As ATTN: has previously written, climate change — which 97 percent of scientists confirm is happening and extremely likely due to human activity — will drastically affect our everyday lives sooner rather than later. How?

  1. More expensive food: "Climate change could make it harder to grow crops and subsequent floods and storms could damage existing crops," according to the EPA.

  2. Water scarcity: "Our most precious resource, water, will be at risk. Water scarcity will impact everything from farming to generating electricity," ATTN: reported last August.
  3. Damage to cities’ infrastructure: "This will cost huge amounts of time and money to repair and restore bridges, transportation, and power sources, to name a few things," ATTN: previously reported.
  4. Energy sources: "It will also have an adverse affect on the way that we produce energy, limiting the ability to access, produce, and distribute oil and natural gas as the demand for energy increases, particularly for air conditioning," as previously pointed out by ATTN:.

[h/t Motherboard]