‘Ominous’ is one of those words that immediately conjures up a sense of foreboding, an indication of coming ill – something scary, menacing and threatening about to occur. It is not a good word – it is harsh and alarming. The recent measurement of 400ppm of CO2, the first ever recorded by humankind, is indeed an ominous threshold.

Mauna Loa Observatory, Ricahrd Vogel photo
Mauna Loa Observatory, Richard Vogel photo

Reaching this recent milestone is an indication that we are entering a different world previously inexperienced by humans. “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences,” said Winston Churchill just before the advent of WWII. I wonder how he would react to the impending consequences of our failure to act in the face of a climate crisis.

It happened on Friday, May 9, 2013. The main greenhouse gas causing global warming averaged 400.03 parts per million at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa monitoring station in Hawaii. 

This will become a day to remember, a day which will come to symbolize our failure to deal with rampant global warming, in spite of having both the knowledge and technology to do so. It will be the 9/11 of climate change.

The 400ppm threshold is a sobering reminder to everybody that we are not even close to fixing this. Our world leaders are failing catastrophically to deal with the climate:

theguardian – Two CO2 monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa are run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and provide the global benchmark measurement. Data released on Friday shows the daily average has passed 400ppm for the first time in its half century of recording. 

Years ago, the CO2 reading reached the 350ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. This presumed safe level is the basis of 350.org created by Bill McKibben:

We started 350.org five years ago, and took our name from what scientists identified as the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 350 parts per million. When we started, carbon dioxide levels were around 390 parts per million — and we knew that to get back to 350 we needed to build a movement to stand up to the fossil fuel money that had stymied all progress.

Sadly Bill Mckibben is defacto accepting defeat (in spite of speaking to the contrary) with the creation of a new target website  act.350.org/donate/400_ppm/. The new level to maintain now seems to be 400ppm. Will he have to reset that number to 450 or 500 in the next decade?

The Keeling Curve

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Charles David Keeling was the first to document the rise in carbon dioxide concentration. He laid the foundation for investigating the global behavior of atmospheric CO2, known as the Keeling Curve,  He recorded an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 313 parts per million at Mauna Loa in March 1958.

“The 400ppm threshold is a sobering milestone and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren,” said Tim Lueker, a carbon cycle scientist at Scripps.

 Scientists are Alarmed

Excerpts from article Scientists alarmed as CO2 passes threshold in PoliticoPro

“We’ve never been here before, certainly not while human beings were on the planet,” Melanie Fitzpatrick, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, estimating that it’s been 3 million to 5 million years since the planet has had such high carbon dioxide levels.

“The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is like the thermostat in your house. Every time you turn it up, we are essentially turning up the heat in the planet,” said Jon Hoekstra, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. “We’re essentially baking ourselves in, perhaps quite literally.”

“It’s unprecedented,” said James Butler, director of the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. “Hitting 400 is just saying, ‘Folks, we haven’t addressed this yet.” Butler said “the planet hasn’t seen atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide this high since the Pliocene era, between 5 million and 2.5 million years ago.

And global emissions appear poised to continue soaring. Not only has the CO2 concentration risen over the decades, NOAA said, but the rate of increase has been accelerating — “from about 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the last 10 years.”

“Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, global average CO2 was about 280 ppm,

Excerpts from article Greenhouse Gases Hit Threshold Unseen in 3 Million Years, Bloomberg

“We are in the process of creating a prehistoric climate that humans have no evolutionary experience of,” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said in a telephone interview.

The last time CO2 levels were this high was at least 3 million years ago, he said. Then, “temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, the polar ice caps were much smaller, and sea levels were about 20 meters (66 feet) higher than today.”

How will future generations judge us 50 or 100 years from now? Will Common Sense prevail? Or will we be viewed as were previous generations in the Age of Stupid?

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Rolly Montpellier is a blogger, writer, activist and the founder of BoomerWarrior.Org. BoomerWarrior is for the socially aware and politically conscious; for the change-makers and thought-provokers; for the light and young at heart; for anyone willing and courageous enough to move forward.

 

 

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