CO2 Rising

Carbon dioxide levels reach a new high. Are our prospects at a new low?

Like the day in October 2011 when the world’s population reached 7 billion, another inglorious landmark was reached on Friday: 400ppm.

This refers to the fact that there are now 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere – the first time this has happened for at least 3 million years.

To put this in context, that was a time when sea levels were between 5 and 40 metres higher than today and when horses were grazing in the Artic.

As with the rise in population, reaching the 400ppm landmark came as no surprise. After all, there has been a steady rise in atmospheric CO2 levels since 1958, when measurements first began:

mlo_full_record

Extreme Speed

But while a 10ppm rise may have taken 1,000 years or more during ancient climate change events, we’re now recording such increases in the space of a few years.

And it’s precisely this extreme speed which makes the future so frightening and uncertain.

How much hotter will it get? How quickly will sea levels rise? Which regions will suffer the most?  

For all of the excellent scientists and research centres in the world none can answer these questions with any certainty. Our refusal to consume the world’s natural resources in moderation means that we’ve put ourselves into the unknown.

So while current levels of CO2 are not unprecedented, the rate at which they are rising is.  

Too late?

With such gloomy news it’s easy to feel disheartened and come to the conclusion: “Why bother? We’re all doomed anyway!”

But as mentioned above, we don’t know how bad it’s going to get. Think damage limitation.

Clearly we need to be prepared for a world which is more volatile and extreme than the one humanity has known for the last several thousand years.

But humans, and some other species, can adapt. How much destruction and suffering happens along the way is something over which we still have some influence.

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