Global CO2: highest levels in 3 million years

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Global CO2 emissions by sector.
Global CO2 emissions by sector. Image courtesy-PBS

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now passed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years. After resting comfortably below 300ppm for the past 30,000 centuries, CO2 levels in the planetary atmosphere have suddenly jumped to 400ppm within the past 2 centuries.

“It couldn’t be us, could it?”

“We are in the process of creating a prehistoric climate that humans have no evolutionary experience of. The last time CO2 levels were this high was at least 3 million years ago. Temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, the polar ice caps were much smaller, and sea levels were about 20 meters (66 feet) higher than today.” — Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (via Bloomberg)

Well, yes it could.

Carbon dioxide can stay in the Earth’s atmosphere for up to 100 years, so the 37 Gigatons of CO2 we will emit in 2013, adds to the already acknowledged and scientifically-accepted global warming trend of the 20th century and now into the 21st century. Our present-day global warming has been caused by the anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions of earlier decades.

“The science is sobering—the global temperature in 2012 was among the hottest since records began in 1880. Make no mistake: without concerted action, the very future of our planet is in peril.” — Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Global temperatures and corresponding CO2 concentrations.
Image courtesy-NOAA

Total greenhouse gas levels in the global atmosphere have increased from a very normal pre-industrial era average of 280ppm (in 1850) to today’s 400ppm (May, 2013) which represents a rise of more than 40 percent over the past 163 years.

If this continues, (another 120ppm increase, over the next 163 years) we would be at 520ppm and, to add insult to injury, there will be much less oxygen in the air — much of it having been consumed in the rush to produce more things and more energy. The plants will love it, as they thrive in an environment with plenty of carbon dioxide. Who knows what will happen to the vast majority of the land-based animals on the planet — will they continue breathing, or will they die? Interestingly, much of the animal life in the world’s oceans may be relatively unaffected. But we may be locked inside our airtight homes.

The alternative to actually doing something to lower our CO2 emissions, is of course, to live in airlocked houses and to work in airtight office buildings, or try to live underground in controlled atmospheric conditions, like living inside a sealed underground nuclear fallout shelter. Trips outdoors, or to the surface, could only be undertaken only while wearing oxygen re-breathers like SCUBA divers wear, which could be a real hassle while driving…

“Oh, and kids, don’t forget to close the airlock door on your way out!”

Below is a video from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration video; Pumphandle 2012: Time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide which displays CO2 concentrations going back to 1960 at various places on the Earth. It then switches to a different graph, showing global CO2 levels, going back some 800,000 years.

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