Every year the CO2 in our altmosphere rises during the winter and falls during the summer. This is because green plants and trees are at their peak in the summer and soak up a lot of CO2 and release oxygen. In the winter, plants and trees are dead and CO2 levels rises. And every May, at the end of winter and before summer, the CO2 always peaks. This May, CO2 levels hit a record high despite the dip caused by the pandemic last year. CO2 levels have not been this high for three million years. No matter what happens, CO2 levels just keep rising and rising. No matter how encouraging the environmental news is, no matter that CO2 levels had their sharpest drop ever during last year’s pandemic, CO2 in the atmosphere just keeps on steadily, inexorably, rising. And now, once again, CO2 is at record high despite everything.
The graph above is called the Keeling curve. Global CO2 levels in the atmosphere are collected every day on top of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii to make this graph. What you see here are individual years of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This is a jagged line, since levels are up in winter and down in the summer. Every jag from down to up to down again is one year.
CO2 is measured in parts per million (PPM) in the atmosphere. Back in 1960 there were 215 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere. This June there are 418.9 PPM CO2. This is a new record. There hasn’t been this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for at least 3 million years. This is the highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere that has ever been recorded. This is according to two separate analyses from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
CO2 is at record high despite everything
CO2 levels are at record levels in spite of temporary dip in global CO2 emissions last year as countries shut down amid the Covid Pandemic. The world emitted 5.8 percent less carbon dioxide in 2020 than it did in 2019, the largest one-year drop ever recorded.
But that dip can’t even be seen on the Keeling Curve. It made little difference to the total amount of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere. Last year humans emitted more that 31 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. About half of that is absorbed by the world’s plants and trees and oceans but the other half stays in the atmosphere and the earth keeps getting warmer and warmer every year.
A New York Times article on June 7, 2021 said that,
“As long as we keep emitting carbon dioxide, it’s going to continue to pile up in the atmosphere,” said Ralph Keeling, a geochemist who runs the Scripps Oceanography CO2 program. The project, begun by his father, Charles D. Keeling, has been taking readings since 1958 at a NOAA observatory on the Mauna Loa volcano.
Dr Keeling said that last year’s drop in CO2 was just too small to show up on the Keeling Curve. Emissions would have to drop by 20 to 30% and stay that way for at least six months before we notice even a slowing of the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Scientists have said that to make any real difference in the continual growth of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere we have to get to net-zero annual emissions by switching entirely from fossil fuels to renewable fuels. Net-zero means that all the CO2 humans put into the atmosphere, minus CO2 being actively removed from the atmosphere, has to equal zero. All of the big oil companies and even whole nations have pledged to get to net-zero emissions by 2030 or 2050 or 2060 but its looking like this is just green-washing and that they don’t have any real plans to do this in any kind of near future. Actually, it looks like a total scam.
The IEA, the International Energy Agency, which has always been very friendly to the oil and gas industry, changed their tune radically last month.
Last month, the International Energy Agency issued a detailed road map for how all of the world’s nations could reach net zero emissions by 2050. The changes would be drastic, the agency found: Countries would have to stop building new coal plants immediately, ban the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 and install wind turbines and solar panels at an unprecedented rate.
The IEA said that if the world did all of this immediately we might have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the agency warned we are not even close to doing this. CO2 emissions are not slowing down. Total annual emissions are expected to rise “at their second-fastest pace ever this year as countries recover from the pandemic and global coal burning approaches its all-time high, led by a surge of industrial activity in Asia.”
The last ten years have seen the fastest growth of CO2 levels ever said Dr Keeling of the Mauna Loa lab.
Scientists at Scripps said that what is happening today on our earth is similar to what happened long ago in the Pliocene era. The results were not pretty then and they will not be pretty now if we cannot stop pouring such massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
The current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are likely comparable to those seen during the Pliocene era, 4.1 million to 4.5 million years ago, the Scripps scientists said. While that period is not a perfect guide to what would happen today, it can provide some clues. By analyzing ice cores and ocean sediments, researchers have determined that temperatures during that time were nearly 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than in the modern preindustrial era and that sea levels were about 78 feet higher than today.
Today we are very, very close to a major make-or-break period in the history of the earth. Almost all scientists agree that a 7 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise would end human civilization.
Things do not look good to me right now.
But then again, there really has been a lot of hope in recent days. A boom in electric vehicles looks inevitable, financiers and even whole countries are beginning to withdraw money from fossil fuel assets, and solar panels are now so inexpensive that renewable energy is competing successfully with fossil energy all over the world.
There really is a lot of hope that we may yet end this environmental emergency before it is too late. It’s just that I get a little depressed when the Keeling curve does nothing but get worse and worse every day, day after day. But in a more rational mode, I do think the situation is getting better. I just get a little impatient sometimes, sorry about that.
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