The Earth’s atmosphere has reached what climatic scientists are calling a “depressing” and “troubling” new milestone for the level of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main global warming pollutant.
Monitoring stations over the Arctic reported concentrations that measured more than 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the spring of 2012.
Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado stated, “The fact that it’s 400 is significant. It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this, and we’re still in trouble.”
Since the Industrial Revolution, when levels were close to 275 parts per million, the heat trapping gas is rising at an accelerating pace and has reached dangerous levels.
The “greenhouse effect”
Carbon dioxide causes a "greenhouse effect" which lasts for approximately 100 years in the air. Though some carbon dioxide occurs naturally in our atmosphere from decomposing dead plants and animals, most comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
However, since the Industrial Revolution, when levels were close to 275 parts per million, the heat trapping gas is rising at an accelerating pace and has reached a dangerous point.
It crossed the 350 ppm mark years ago, believed to be the highest safe level for carbon dioxide and now stands globally at 395.
Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and Mongolia have all reported carbon dioxide concentrations of above 400 parts per million.
However, the levels are likely to dip in the coming summer months when photosynthesis increases and the forests of Canada and Siberia begin turning that carbon dioxide back into carbon and oxygen, NOAA scientists explained.
The 400 figure over the Arctic does not represent the entire world, but given that carbon dioxide circulates relatively fast in the atmosphere, the milestone will soon be reached in the rest of the world.
Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause an increase in temperature which can melt of the ice caps and affect the overall biosphere.
CO2 emissions reach record high
According to International Energy Agency report, last year’s energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions reached a record high of 34.8 billion tons. This is a 3.2 percent increase from levels recorded in 2010.
The significant increase in CO2 pollution and emissions in 2011 represent a serious setback to the hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2ºC.
This would in turn lead to a water and food scarcity in certain areas along with increased levels of disease.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the highest-profile campaigner against global warming stated, “The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders — with a few honorable exceptions — are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis. History will not understand or forgive them.”