|The Keeling Curve graph
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How’s this for a cheery, not-at-all-foreboding milestone?
On May 9, 2013, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide hit a new record high. Announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the levels of CO2 in the air on that day* reached a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest level of atmospheric CO2 in human history, and in fact the highest level for at least 800,000 years. It gets worse: the amount of CO2 in the air likely hasn’t been this high since the Pliocene Epoch, more than three million years ago.
- CO2 levels are rising, and they’re rising far faster than any time in human history (and at least for the past 11,000 years).
- CO2 is for real and for sure tied to rising heat content of the Earth. For quite some time that heat has been going into the air, and we’ve seen rising temperatures around the world. At the moment, a lot of that heat is going into warming the oceans, but climatologists expect to see air temperatures increasing rapidly again soon.
- This has direct impacts, like increased temperatures in the air and water, melting ice, and more severe weather. It also has indirect impacts, like fluctuating weather patterns. This makes it difficult to tag any freak storm to climate change, but it does mean that over time, we’ll see more and more. Worse droughts and floods, more forest fires, increased ocean acidification, and more are all expected due to increased carbon dioxide in the air.
- All this is happening on a timescale hugely accelerated over natural cycles. The Earth tends to changes over millions of years; we’re doing this to it in just a century. Without time to adapt, this will have a profound impact on life around the globe.
B-b-but it’s cold outside where I live at the moment!