"Fossil fuel pollution just keeps building up, much like trash in a landfill.” 

Point Break

As the American Southwest grapples with unnaturally sky-high temperatures wrought by a destructive "heat dome," scientists say carbon dioxide — a polluting greenhouse gas released by fossil fuels, widely proven to have an outsized impact on global warming — has hit record atmospheric levels.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as of May, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere reached nearly 427 parts per million. As NPR notes, that's a three parts per million jump from last year's peak, as well as the highest atmospheric level of the greenhouse gas ever measured — and according to researchers, the climate-altering impacts of this explosive growth are being felt on the ground, from intensified natural disasters to record-breaking heat events.

"Over the past year, we've experienced the hottest year on record, the hottest ocean temperatures on record, and a seemingly endless string of heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires and storms," NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement.

"We must recognize that these are clear signals of the damage carbon dioxide pollution is doing to the climate system," he added, "and take rapid action to reduce fossil fuel use as quickly as we can."

All Clouds, No Linings

Per NOAA, researchers at the University of Southern California's Scripps Institute of Oceanography have monitored carbon dioxide levels since 1958. To be clear, CO2 has been gradually accumulating since scientists first started measuring it. But these last few years have seen a record acceleration in this historically heavy growth, and according to NOAA, Scripps' January through April figures for 2024 reflect the fastest concentration of carbon pollution in the atmosphere during the first four months of any other year in the institute's history.

"Not only is CO2 now at the highest level in millions of years," said Ralph Keeling, the director of the Scripps lab that measures CO2, in a statement, but "it is also rising faster than ever."

"Each year achieves a higher maximum due to fossil-fuel burning," he added, "which releases pollution in the form of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

It's grim news, and again comes at a moment when the impacts of climate change are being felt by communities worldwide. Destructive weather events are getting worse, while summers are increasingly more extreme — last July saw the hottest month in recorded history, and already, in much of America, this year's summer temperatures are exceeding 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit beyond normal June limits. (And don't even ask us about what global warming-induced extreme temperatures are doing to monkeys and oceans.)

"Fossil fuel pollution just keeps building up," Keeling's statement continued, "much like trash in a landfill."

More on global warming: You Might Cry When You Read This Study about What's Happening to the Oceans

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