Not to be too much of a Debby Downer, but we really need to talk about some not-so-good news that’s recently developed in our battle with climate change. In short, it’s getting worse. Like, this is literally the highest global carbon dioxide concentration humanity has ever seen worse.
2015 marked a monumental time in our war against a warming planet. It was the first time in recorded history and at least one million years that global carbon dioxide concentrations in our earth’s atmosphere were measured at or above 400 parts per million (ppm).
The news that global carbon dioxide concentrations are inching ever higher by the year is very unwelcome, but it’s important to understand what this data has to teach us so that we might act accordingly.
A Message From a Volcano
While global carbon dioxide concentrations breaking 400 ppm in March 2015 is certainly newsworthy, this story really started a few years ago at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. It is here that a research and observation facility currently run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) first began measuring carbon dioxide concentrations in 1958. That makes data recorded here pretty accurate and very informative for climate scientists, and even the average person on the internet that wants to keep up with the data records.
Carbon dioxide concentrations measured at Mauna Loa started out at 315.71 ppm in March 1958. Fast-forward a few decades to May 2, 2013 when scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory measured the carbon dioxide concentration at 400 ppm for the first time ever. While March 2015 marked when 400 ppm was met, the fact that it has remained constant is what is truly troubling. Our world, unfortunately, appears to be changing for the worse.
Carbon Dioxide 101
While carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas in our environment, too much of it in the atmosphere (or the ocean) can be a bad thing. Carbon dioxide concentrations are growing because we are releasing the gas as an emission at a rate faster than what the planet can process and absorb. Our carbon dioxide emissions come from a variety of sources including the largest being combustion of fossil fuels for energy – responsible for around 77 percent of emissions – transportation, and manufacturing, and even the livestock sector, which accounts for around 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
We alter the earth’s ability to sequester these carbon dioxide emissions when we clear forests which act as carbon sinks where the gas is captured and used in photosynthesis.
Carbon dioxide is one of several greenhouse gases, meaning it has the potential to change our atmosphere and thus our climate in the process. While there are other greenhouse gases with a greater warming potential, carbon dioxide makes up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States at 82 percent. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide is our key to avoiding the damage that climate change can do to our planet in the future.
Where to Go From Here?
It’s probably important to note that this 400 ppm number does not necessarily mean anything concrete for our planet. For now scientists are merely referring to it as a “milestone.” It signifies to us that our atmosphere has been changing due to our actions, and we can expect it to continue to change if we don’t change our actions.
On one path, if we imagine that we don’t address our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the acceleration of climate change soon, the future could be pretty terrifying. Climate change is predicted to cause food shortages, spread infectious diseases, cause floods and droughts, cause stronger storms, cause sea level rise, and threaten both natural habitat and wildlife species just to name a few effects.
The other option is for mankind to actually begin to address climate change and act on behalf of future generations. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is our key to saving our planet from widespread devastation and destruction. Are you up for helping save the world?
We Can All Make a Difference
While there are a ton of ways to fight climate change, here are just a few ideas to help you get started:
- Plant-based foods: eat ‘em! Diets rich in meats and dairy carry a large carbon footprint. But choosing to #EatForThePlanet will send climate change packing. By simply choosing to leave meat off your plate, you can cut your personal carbon footprint in HALF!
- Fossil Fuels: reduce your use! Bike, walk, carpool or use public transportation to reduce the amount of fossil fuels you use to get around. Turn off your lights and TV when you’re not in the room to reduce your energy use. Or even swap out your old light bulbs for new ones – low energy light bulbs, for example, use around 20 percent less energy than a conventional light bulb. If you unplug your electronics when you’re not charging them, you can cut standby energy use and save up to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year! To put that in context, one gallon of gasoline in your car produces about 20 pounds emissions directly. To learn more about how you can cut carbon dioxide around your home, click here.
- Your voice: use it! The first step in lowering global carbon dioxide emissions is motivating others to join in. While we all have an incredible opportunity to make a change in our daily actions, our collective action is needed to turn the tide. We all contributed in some way to the 400 ppm milestone, which means we can all help to get that back down.
The recent news around our atmospheric conditions may not be good news, but we aren’t done writing this story yet. We still have the power to push our world back on the right track, so let’s get moving!
Lead Image Source: Mikael Miettinen/ Flickr