The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere hit a critical level in the month of September, with scientists warning that we have likely passed the point of no return. This does not bode well for the Paris agreement, which aimed to prevent the world from warming by more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100.
According to data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the values of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere have remained above 400 parts per million throughout the month of September. At this time of year, atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, making the phenomenon a particularly unusual occurrence.
In light of this evidence, scientists are warning that carbon dioxide levels will never drop below the symbolic 400 ppm mark, at least in our lifetimes. “We won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future,” Scripps scientist Ralph Keeling told USA Today.
Over the course of the summer, the abundance of plants absorb carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere. As a result, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are typically at their lowest in the month of September. However, as we enter the cooler months, the plants lose their leaves. As these leaves decompose, they release stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
— Climate Central (@ClimateCentral) 29 September 2016
Carbon dioxide is responsible for as much as 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
“Is it possible that October 2016 will yield a lower monthly value than September and dip below 400 ppm? Almost impossible,” Ralph Keeling, the scientist who runs the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, wrote in a blog post. “Brief excursions toward lower values are still possible, but 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.”
The levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have been on the rise since the industrial revolution, which began back in the late 1800s. As the plants have been unable to absorb the excess carbon dioxide – a situation made worse by deforestation – the influx has driven global temperatures up. In turn, this has triggered a number of other climate change impacts, including rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and intensity of some types of extreme weather.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the atmosphere has warmed the world about 1.8F – a phenomenon that shows no signs of stopping. In fact, according to a report recently released by six leading climate change specialists and Universal Ecological Fund, the Earth could warm by an additional 1.8F by 2050, author Sir Robert Watson told the SFGate.
Although world leaders have been increasing efforts to tackle the issue – for instance, investing in renewable energy and adopting food waste initiatives – the actions are too far and few, especially if we aim to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
According to the chief climate scientist at NASA Gavin Schmidt, even if we were able to completely stop emitting carbon dioxide as early as tomorrow, the emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to linger for many decades.
“At best (in that scenario), 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,” Schmidt explained in an email to The Guardian. “In my opinion, we won’t ever see a month below 400 ppm.”
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