Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 10:03 AM EDT

CO2 Levels Are Higher Than Ever

May 14, 2019 07:45 AM EDT


Levels of the damaging greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have reached a frightening new level at the world's oldest measuring station in Hawaii. The Mauna Loa Observatory, which has measured the parts per million-or ppm for short-of CO2 in the atmosphere since the late 50s, took a reading of 415.26ppm in the air on 11 May-and is considered to be the highest concentration since the evolution of the human species.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography measures CO2 levels at Mauna Loa daily. The observatory, on Hawaii's largest volcano, was built to test air quality on the remote Pacific islands because it is far from continents and pollution, while the area lacks flora, which can interfere with results. The analyses form the Keeling curve, which shows a quick increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere as a result of human actions. In 1958 the readings showed the concentration of CO2 was 313ppm in March 1958, and that had risen to 400ppm by May 2013.

Meteorologist Eric Holthouse retweeted the Mauna Loa readings and said: "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."

Ralph Keeling, the director of Scripps CO2 program, said: "The average growth rate is remaining on the high end. The increase from last year will probably be around three parts per million whereas the recent average has been 2.5ppm." He added: "[It's] likely we're seeing the effect of mild El Nino conditions on top of ongoing fossil fuel use."

It is believed that the last time CO2 concentrations were this high was during the mid Pliocene epoch 2.5-5 million years ago. A time which global temperatures were 2-3 degrees higher than they are today, global sea levels were at least 25 meters higher, and sea ice at the Arctic had retreated and given way to forests, where summer temperatures regularly reached 15 Celsius.

The Paris climate agreement, signed by most countries in 2015, is designed to try and limit average global temperature rises to 1.5C above what they were in the pre-industrial era. However, last year's report by the United Nations' scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, signaled the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are still being released into the atmosphere suggests that we are currently on track to exceed 1.5C of warming between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continue to rise at the current rate.

Once we hit 2C warming, the report said the world will become an overwhelmingly different place. There will be virtually no coral reefs remaining, the Arctic will have no ice whatsoever during summer at least once a decade, and vast numbers of animals and plants will become extinct as their habitat becomes smaller and smaller. It is also believed that heatwaves and wildfires will become more common and could make some populated parts of the world unbearable.

The effect on humans will be colossal, the report said, particularly in areas already susceptible to sea level rise such as the low-lying coastal regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam, and island territories like Kiribati and the Maldives. Rising waters could force millions from their homes, and crop yields would fall considerably in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and Central and South America.

The report concluded "limiting global warming to 1.5C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society."

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