Carbon Dioxide Levels In Atmosphere Reach Highest Amount In Recorded History

Our impact on the environment is undeniable. Thanks to fossil fuel emissions and other pollutants, the carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere have been steadily climbing year after year, and 2021 is no exception.

The first five months of this year have been especially devastating for CO2 emissions, peaking at an average of 419 parts per million (ppm) this past May.

Where is this data coming from?

Unsplash | Miguel A. Amutio

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), as well as scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California have been collecting this kind of data monthly and annually for the past 63 years, when measurements first became as accurate as they are today.

What do their findings tell us?

From January to May 2021, the monthly average of atmospheric carbon dioxide was 418.92 ppm, peaking at 419.13 ppm in May, according to the NOAA. This is up from 2020, where the average was 417 ppm.

The amount of carbon we add to the atmosphere each year is astronomical.

Pieter Tans, one of the senior scientists of NOAA, discusses the fact that carbon is a persistent greenhouse gas that stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. “We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” he states. That sounds like a lot.

That number continues to go up each year.

Though the annual increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide is slightly less than it was in 2020, which was around 1.8 ppm for the past year, the increase between January and May 2021 saw an increase of 2.3 ppm over the same period of time in 2020, which is around the average annual increase from 2010 to 2019.

Many thought the pandemic would help lessen the increase.

There was a slight decrease in atmospheric carbon emissions in early 2020 thanks to worldwide closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but this was ultimately negligible in the grand scheme of things, IFL science reports.

These numbers are similar to what was measured in the past.

Unsplash | Marcin Jozwiak

Carbon dioxide levels are currently comparable to what they were estimated to be during the Pliocene Carbon Optimum between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago.

Back then, carbon levels were around or above 400 ppm, the sea level was about 78 feet higher than it is today, and the average global temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was before the start of the Industrial Revolution, according to NOAA.

This all seems frightening.

It's up to every country in the world to curb CO2 emissions. It's best to act as soon as possible before we reach a point of catastrophic consequences, experts warn.

“The solution is right before our eyes.”

“Solar energy and wind are already cheaper than fossil fuels and they work at the scales that are required. If we take real action soon, we might still be able to avoid catastrophic climate change," Tans says.

h/t: NOAA, IFL Science.

Filed Under: