Climate Action

Carbon dioxide levels reach peak in 4 million years, what this means for climate change

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere reached 419 parts per million in May. These are the highest carbon dioxide levels in over four million years.

The last time that the atmosphere held comparable levels of CO2 was during the Pliocene period, when the Earth looked completely different from what it does today. Sea levels were 78 feet higher, temperatures were 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and large forests covered parts of the Arctic tundra.

What do these record CO2 emissions mean for climate change? The atmosphere acts as a heat-trapping blanket. Greenhouse gases, like CO2, keep temperatures on Earth comfortable for human survival.

However, we are emitting record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere due to transportation, electrical generation, deforestation, agriculture and more. This excess amount of human-induced CO2 causes average temperatures to rise over time, resulting in what is known as climate change.

Climate change is already impacting life as we know it. Rising temperatures, changing seasons, altered rainfall patterns and stronger hurricanes are but a few of its tremendous effects.

“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 – year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.” 

We must also grapple with the CO2 already present in the atmosphere. Known as “legacy emissions,” this represents the CO2 that has been accumulating over the past 200 years.

Enter climate restoration. It would provide for removal and sequestration of the trillion tons of CO2 emissions previously emitted into the atmosphere. Restoration efforts could lower atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial levels.

We have the opportunity to turn a grim headline into an opportunity if we Restore Our Earth. We’re running out of time, but if we act now and act together, we can turn the tide on the climate crisis.

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Dear Humans: A message from Earth to its inhabitants