In 2022, carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in millions of years. Why this matters?
The heat-trapping carbon dioxide that we see in the atmosphere today has not reached such levels in millions of years. The greenhouse gas which raises the planet’s surface temperatures had been at about the same level 4.1 to 4.5 million years ago in the Pliocene era.
The global temperature in those prehistoric times had risen to a life-endangering 7 degrees Celsius, that is, 3.9 degrees hotter than today.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its long-time monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, averaged 421 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide for the month of May. CO2 hits its yearly high this summer month as plants in the northern hemisphere suck more of the gas as they grow. Much of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere (10 billion metric tons each year) gets drawn down by the oceans and plants.
The last time the planet was so hot due to a profusion of gases that capture heat, sea levels were 5 to 25 meters higher than now. If, as data suggests, we are speeding to such a reality soon, then humans would experience such conditions for the first time since their evolution. Coastlines would dramatically change, and extreme weather events would tragically wipe out lives and livelihoods. The effects of rising temperatures are already manifesting every year.
Some activists and scientists want a level of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide but the earth crossed the threshold of 400 ppm in 2013 and has been adding to the carbon emission every single year.
The greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and certain other gases last for a long time in the atmosphere – hanging there much like a blanket over the earth.
But as is the course of most natural phenomena, the resilient earth reverted to hospitable conditions over centuries. Human activity is not only accelerating us toward global warming quicker but is also making it harder for natural processes to offset the amount of carbon we are releasing into the atmosphere.
Speaking to the Associated Press, climate scientist Andrea Dutton, said, “Watching these incremental but persistent increases in CO2 year-to-year is much like watching a train barrel down the track towards you in slow motion. It’s terrifying. If we stay on the track with a plan to jump out of the way at the last minute, we may die of heat stroke out on the tracks before it even gets to us.”