In March 2015, the global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in our atmosphere exceeded 400 ppm (parts per million) for the first time since measurements began, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Why is this so significant when it comes to climate change?
The last time Earth’s atmosphere was this carbon rich, the global sea level was up to 40 meters higher. Temperatures were 2-3°C warmer. And our chimpanzee ancestors, the Homo habilis, were learning to use stone tools.
It was the Pliocene Epoch. The planet evolved steadily, with CO2 levels going up by about 10 ppm per millennium. Today the same increase takes half a decade. This is part of a natural counter cycle that the Earth goes through every now and then, the Koch brothers and other oil interest groups would have you believe.
Counter cycles accelerate this fast only when hundreds of millions of carbon dollars help the media and Washington D.C. buy a fairy tale.
From a September 2013 IPCC report, authored by 250 climate scientists from 39 countries:
“Emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel use and from the effects of land use change on plant and soil carbon are the primary sources of increased atmospheric CO2. Since 1750, it is estimated that about 2/3rds of anthropogenic [human] CO2 emissions have come from fossil fuel burning and about 1/3rd from land use change. About 45 percent of this CO2 has remained in the atmosphere, while about 30 percent has been taken up by the oceans and the remainder has been taken up by the terrestrial biosphere. About half of a CO2 pulse [emission] to the atmosphere is removed over a time scale of 30 years; a further 30 percent is removed within a few centuries; and the remaining 20 percent will typically stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years.”
Because of the accumulative factor of CO2, NASA’s top expert on climate change, James Hansen, along with world’s top scientists and the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, have advocated a safe limit at 350 ppm, beyond which increasing CO2 levels would put us on an irreversible trajectory, with melting polar caps and continuing temperature rises.
The pre-industrial (1750-1850) levels of CO2 were below 280 ppm. Temperatures have risen 0.8°C temperature since then. The corresponding weather disturbances and melting ice caps have been drastically harsher than even the most pessimistic scientists could predict. The IPCC stated in 2014 that we are in danger of collapsing the West Antarctic ice sheet with a subsequent sea level rise of 3-5 meters, even with the present 0.8°C increase.
With what we know today, we will not recognize our planet after a 2°C hike. James Hansen calls 2°C “a prescription for a long-term disaster.”
But it gets worse. To maintain a maximum 2°C temperature increase we would have to limit our total release of carbon to 565 gigatons. Yet the total carbon reserves identified by the carbon industry exceed some 2,795 gigatons, or five times this limit. These deposits are valued at over $27 trillion, representing a future revenue stream that the oil giants have already tagged in their balance sheets (in 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on a world tour trying to secure at least $9 trillion of that for Western companies)
In other words, while continuing the charade of climate control negotiations, the actual political and industrial momentum is set to burn through the climate accords at a five-fold speed. Purely for the profit motive.
James Butler, director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, has stated that it would be difficult to reverse the current greenhouse gasses without immediately eliminating at least 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions. And even then, actual carbon dioxide reduction would happen slowly, as the sea levels would continue to rise for decades before the reductions had any effect.
When politics and commerce are still living in yesterday’s reality, such drastic measures are unlikely to happen anytime soon. Instead, we are likely to slide even further back into the Pliocene and our chimpanzee origins, as testified by a May 7 vote in the US Senate, in which half the American legislators voted that humans are not responsible for climate change.
(Main image courtesy of NASA: Actual sunrise on Mars)
Jan Wellmann was born in Helsinki, Finland, in a very cold atmosphere. Later he rebelled, believing that he belonged to an extinct Gecko species that could only thrive in tropical climate, and escaped to California. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he projects multiple fractured images of himself, some of them reminiscent of human behavior. Submit your story or essay to Buzzworthy Blogs.