For the first time in human history, the level of carbon dioxide has reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million (ppm), a long-feared milestone among scientists. The level was obtained at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, a monitoring station that tracks carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
NASA scientist James Hansen stated in 1988 that the safe zone for avoiding impacts of climate change is 350 ppm and below. Unfortunately the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that levels will go up another 50 ppm by the end of the century.
“Somehow in the last 50 ppm we melted the Arctic,” said environmentalist and founder of activist group 350.org Bill McKibben, who said the news is a “grim but predictable milestone”.
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.
Last summer, we saw the first instance of levels spiking above the 400 ppm mark, however this is the first time the average reading for entire day went above the level. Levels should go back below 400 ppm with seasonal changes; however that trend won’t last long.
“It’s clear that sometime next year we’ll see 400 consistently,” said Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society. “Avoiding the future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in greenhouse gases.”
While China has surpassed America as the top emitter of carbon dioxide, America is by far the most responsible for the global level as we have been consuming fossil fuels for much longer. Not only do we need to drastically minimize our use of fossil fuels, we also need to plan for an environment with higher temperatures, higher seas and more extreme weather. While carbon emissions in the U.S. have fallen by 13% in the last seven years, the U.S. and China still refuse to adopt binding national targets. According to the New York Times article on the subject, “Scientists say that unless far greater efforts are made soon, the goal of limiting the warming will become impossible without severe economic disruption”.
“If you start turning the Titanic long before you hit the iceberg, you can go clear without even spilling a drink of a passenger on deck,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “If you wait until you’re really close, spilling a lot of drinks is the best you can hope for.”
“If you’re looking to stave off climate perturbations that I don’t believe our culture is ready to adapt to, then significant reductions in CO2 emissions have to occur right away,” said Mark Pagani, a Yale geochemist who studies climates of the past. “I feel like the time to do something was yesterday.”