800,000 Years of Carbon Dioxide
By Climate Central
As May begins, we are nearing the annual peak atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the greenhouse gas that contributes most to human-caused climate change. CO2 does vary seasonally, peaking in May as the Northern Hemisphere’s plants blossom and breathe in more CO2 during the summer. Still, the year-to-year increase in CO2 is unmistakable. When this year’s peak is announced (see here for daily updates), it will be the highest level in at least two million years. The last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today.
Ice core data show ups and downs for CO2 in the last 800,000 years, but the rapid increase since the industrial revolution is unprecedented. This increase leads to the rise in global temperatures — the foundation for climate change impacts that are affecting us here and now. Even if we halted our emissions today, these impacts wouldn’t disappear; CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a thousand years or more. Cutting our carbon footprint is the greatest challenge of our time, but solutions do exist. From renewable energy and energy efficiency to cleaner transportation and agriculture, sustainable practices are ready for use.
Methodology: CO2 data from Mauna Loa, Hawaii is reported by NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division.