April 2018 is a notable but almost unnoticed moment in recorded human history. The average amount of CO2 in our atmosphere exceeded 410 parts per million for the first time in recorded history. Breath deeply, because you are breathing a unique mixture that no human ancestor ever experienced.
“So what“, you might exclaim, “We have a plan, we have the Paris agreement, we are on the case“.
First, let’s understand how we know this.
The Keeling Curve
In 1958 Charles Keeling began formally recording the levels of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere from the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Prior to that we had no continuous and consistent measurements. What he revealed were two things …
- The seasonal variations in Carbon Dioxide levels (caused by plants bursting into life and absorbing carbon dioxide during the summer, then falling into a dormant phase in winter)
- The ever increasing rate of Carbon Dioxide within our atmosphere (caused by us pumping out vast amounts of it)
Each day since then, it is updated with the latest reading, and so here is the full record.
Measurements can go further back than 1958.
Via Ice core samples, we can extract from the tiny trapped bubbles of air precise measurements, and so we are able to construct a very precise chart of the amount of CO2 within our atmosphere going back over 800,000 years.
Let’s take the above data and add that ice core data to the above so that we can see the above in that context …
To answer that simply, let me put it this way – “No” is not an option.
We keep burning fossil fuels. Net effect, carbon dioxide will continue building up in the air. Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat, the climate will continue to alter and it will greatly impact us.
- Sea level will continue to rise – there is enough frozen ice in Greenland and the Antarctic to raise sea level by over 220 feet. That outcome would devastate vast numbers of humans.
- Areas of the planet will become too hot for human habitation to be viable.
We do have options
It is not a lost cause. There is still a window of opportunity within which we can take meaningful decisive action.
This latest measurement is not a declaration of our inevitable doom, but rather is a call to move forward and take meaningful decisive action.
Doing nothing is not an option – that Keeling curve needs to stop its upward trend and start bending downwards.