A report came out about a month ago saying the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere is measuring at 405 parts per million – a record high. Since scientists have been tracking it at Mauna Loa in 1958, increases in carbon dioxide levels have averaged about 2 parts per million each year. These past two years (2015 & 2016), it’s been increasing at 3 ppm each year. It’s accelerating and compounding.
During the Paris Climate talks, we kept hearing about this magical two degrees figure. The message being we need to keep the planet from warming an additional two degrees Celcius, since we’ve been measuring (in the 1800s). To give you an idea, for the past 10,000 years, Earth’s temperature has been fluctuating by around one degree. It wasn’t until recently when we started using fossil fuels that the temperatures have undergone this steady increase.
So why two degrees? It’s just a goal so that maybe countries can try to do their part to curb carbon emissions. And maybe it’s scientists’ guesstimate of the level that humans can tolerate. Because CO2 is a major contributor to global warming and it appears to be increasing at an accelerating rate, I think two degrees is an optimistic target. Realistically, we’re on our way to exceeding that.
There are currently about 7 billion people on the planet. Even with decreasing global birthrates since the 1950s, the population is projected to exceed 10 billion in less than 100 years due to longer lifespans. No matter how conservatively we live, even if we were all in developing nations and didn’t drive cars, energy requirements alone for 3 billion more will probably push us over the 2 degrees. Scientists are predicting 2 to 4 feet sea level rise this century, and more if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets collapse. Speaking of, a few days ago, scientists observed a new crack in one of Greenland’s glaciers. It’s not really new, just newly noticed. It appeared last summer. As these glaciers break off into the ocean, or calve, the melting of the land ice will accelerate and so will sea level rise.
Global temperatures rising aside, at what point of CO2 levels in the atmosphere does it affect people? Some studies show that at 1,000 ppm, we start showing cognitive decline. But what about long term effects of exposure at lower levels?
Now here I’ve been living my life trying to be more informed of my contribution to the carbon footprint. I’ve been of the belief, maybe naively, that I can do my part to live more gently and leave as small a mark as I can. I wonder though, if it’s too late anyway, maybe we should just party like it’s 1999 and let the consequences play out as they will regardless. Is this what climate change deniers think? That this is the last hurrah, and the every-man-for-himself moment? I flit between these two thoughts. That maybe dash it all, we should live it up, screw the pooch. Or there’s still hope if we all do our part. Try as I do to remind myself that it’s probably futile, the optimist in me won’t give up.