Mankind has reached yet another milestone. Hold off from opening a bottle of champagne though, because this isn’t one worthy of a celebration. Instead, we get to battle the inevitable: Record-breaking carbon-dioxide concentrations.
This past weekend, the Mauna Loa Hawaii Observatory confirmed record-breaking carbon-dioxide concentrations within Earth’s atmosphere. The reading clocked in at an alarming concentration of 415.26 ppm.
Following the observatory’s announcements, meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted about the severity of the situation.
This is the first time in human history our planet's atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2.
Not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago.
We don't know a planet like this. https://t.co/azVukskDWr
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) May 12, 2019
To further elaborate, Holthaus mentions “not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago”. Ending the tweet by saying “we don’t know a planet like this”, he touches on an important fact. Humans are venturing into uncharted territory. More specifically, uncharted territory of inevitable disaster.
How Have Carbon Dioxide Levels Changed Over Time?
During the time of the ice ages, carbon-dioxide levels hovered around 200 ppm will fluctuations during warmer interglacial periods. However, with human evolution and our relation to technology, these concentrations are increasing at an alarming rate.
Since 1958, measurements are made using a program created by the late Charles David Keeling. As a result, both scientists and the public are able to track the increasing concentrations with the Keeling Curve. At the start of its use, CO2 concentrations were around 315 ppm in the early 1960s. Rising relentlessly, it broke 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history in 2013.
This atmospheric change has shown to have a constant relationship with many human practices. While only two of many, these include fossil-fuel burning and mass deforestation. In regards to fossil fuel, 60 percent of emissions stay in the air, creating a blanket of greenhouse gas over the Earth.
With deforestation, there simply is not enough greenery to naturally balance the overwhelming amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere. While both cause the prevention of Earth’s natural cooling cycle, continuing this trend will lead to the trapping heat near the surface and the rise of global temperatures. From this, we are gradually be cooking our planet and ourselves alive.
While a record, this is an achievement that no human should be proud of. With current practices, our planet is suffocating, all life is struggling, and humans are now seeing a reality that has never been battled before. There is only so much time until Earth’s balance is tipped beyond saving, so it’s important to start living more sustainable lives starting now.
Avery is a writer for the Energy section and a Material Science and Engineering student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.