Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just exceeded the highest level in human history

For the first time in human history atmospheric carbon has hit 415 ppm.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just exceeded the highest level in human history
Image: Pixabay

Carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to climate change around the globe and stays in the atmosphere for many years after its emitted, making it possible for the effects to compound over long periods of time.

Even if the world were to stop emitting CO2 altogether, gases could continue to warm the planet for centuries.

For the first time in human history — not recorded history, but since humans have existed on Earth — carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million, suggests a data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

This shocking milestone was reported by the climate reporter Eric Holthaus on Twitter. He noted:

According to measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, atmospheric CO2 has hit 415 parts per million, eclipsing record highs recorded in Arctic Ice samples that date back 800,000 years.

The increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important because of its heat absorbing properties. The land and seas on the planet absorb and emit heat, and that heat is trapped in carbon dioxide molecules. The NOAA likens CO2 to leaving bricks in a fireplace that still emit heat after a fire goes out.

In the last two decades, the rate of increase has been roughly 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred at the end of the last ice age 11,000-17,000 years ago.

The release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases has already led to a 1C rise in global temperatures, and we are likely locked in for a further rise.

CO2 emissions over time as recorded by measurements of Arctic ice and the Mauna Loa Observatory. Courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
CO2 emissions over time as recorded by measurements of Arctic ice and the Mauna Loa Observatory. Courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

According to NOAA, “The properties of CO2 also mean that it adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that other emissions do not, thanks to its ability to absorb wavelengths of thermal energy that things like water vapor can’t. That’s why increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance causing Earth’s temperature to rise.”