In Brief
  • Atmospheric CO2 levels have remained above 400ppm for the first time in history.
  • While this does not spell certain doom for humanity, it is an important marker that swift, decisive action is required.

Temperatures Rising

Amidst the seemingly never ending debate on whether climate change is real or not, new readings of the Earth’s CO2 levels continue to show that it is real.Agencies that regularly monitor CO2 levels, like NASA, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Mauna Loa Observatory, have noticed that we have reached a crucial point.

Usually, towards the end of September, CO2 levels reach their lowest point of the year — as plants grow and take in CO2 over the summer. Except this time around, despite reaching counts comparatively lower then any for this year, CO2 levels have not gone below the 400 parts per million benchmark.

Credits: Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Mauna Loa Observatory
Credits: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mauna Loa Observatory

What’s it Mean?

Experts say that the safest CO2 levels in the atmosphere should be about 350 ppm, a level we have long-since passed. This year alone, we have already reached the 400 ppm mark and its not getting any lower. Scripps scientist Ralph Keeling believes there will be the occasional daily dip, a little below 400 ppm due to certain conditions, like typhoons. However, “it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future.”

NASA’s chief climate scientist expressed the same concerns: “At best, one might expect a balance in the near term and so CO2 levels probably wouldn’t change much — but would start to fall off in a decade or so. In my opinion, we won’t ever see a month below 400 ppm.”

Ever since man altered the levels of CO2 — thanks to the Industrial Revolution — to rates plants cannot cope up with, there has been a steady rise in CO2 levels warming the Earth about 1.8 F. And 2016 might be that time when we crossed another threshold, since we went past the safe 350 ppm levels.

To be clear, this benchmark is not an apocalyptic tipping point. Essentially, 399 ppm was not “safe” and reading beyond 400 now spells immediate and certain doom for life on the planet. As Extreme Tech puts it, “Four hundred was a place that some optimistic folks thought, if we all really pulled together, we could get our carbon emissions to level off.”

There is hope, of course, assuming we continue to take the necessary steps to counter the trend. It may take a decade or so, but, at the very least, we must try.