Some say we will never again dip below 400 parts per million, even with emissions rollbacks
As it begins to wind down, the year 2016 seems to be striving for notoriety in the history of man. This week, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climatologists, at their state-of-the-art Mauna Loa observatory, announced that the normal September dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels did not occur. Instead, they remain above the important 400 ppm mark, and many scientists say we’ll never see readings below that again.
The news comes only weeks after – as I’ve previously noted here on my ULTIMATE ERROR blog – July 2016 was declared the fifteenth consecutive month of record monthly-high temperatures. Those are in-recorded-history record highs. The topper – at least until the CO2 announcement this week – was that this past July was also the hottest month ever in recorded history.
This month, September, typically marks the point in the calendar when Earth’s flora have absorbed enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to bring levels below 400 ppm. It didn’t happen this year, because there’s more CO2 being pumped into the air. During winter, foliage dies, of course, and this releases stored CO2 back into the atmosphere. This is why scientists believe that the numbers will only go up from here, and that numbers below 400 ppm are a thing of the past in our lifetimes.
This is the year when we crossed lines that, when we look back, we may wish we had never crossed. My peers in the sciences are saying that we must immediately accelerate remedial action against global warming to stay where we are, literally and figuratively. Again, these thresholds that we’ve recently crossed are, according to many experts, permanent. We can only work to evade even worse consequences down the line.
Unfortunately, the ink isn’t even dry yet on the American and Chinese ratifications of the Paris climate accord of 2015. It took the world’s biggest carbon polluters almost a year before finally signing on at the G20 summit earlier this month. But the superpowers simply cannot continue to move so slowly.
With all the political wrangling to come, including interference from industrial lobbies, how long will it take to wean the U.S. off of petroleum? Similarly, how long will it take to make coal-happy China change its ways? Both are absolutely crucial to the success of the Paris agreement and its primary goal of keeping warming under two degrees Celsius. Moreover, that goal doesn’t guarantee mild, predictable weather.
Two degrees Celsius is sufficient warming to cause severe floods and droughts, super-storms such as hurricanes and typhoons, and sea-level rise enough to endanger island nations and low-lying areas across the globe. These consequences are all but locked in, experts say, but at least they are preferable to the alternative.
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, explores the mechanisms and machinations of ecological catastrophe. Humankind would love to boast full control of the natural world but, so far, we have only achieved exploitation of it – and at horrific costs.