The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its highest level in at least 800,000 years, according to scientists.
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.” So wrote hitchhiker, science fiction author, environmentalist and general genius Douglas Adams of the Earth’s position in the universe.
Bear that in mind, then, as we tell you that the Earth has now passed a carbon threshold from which there is no return.
For the first time since records began, atmospheric carbon has exceeded 410 parts per million – which won’t mean that much to you, but trust me, it’s bad.
In fact, don’t just trust me as climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, also tweeted: “As a scientist, what concerns me the most is what this continued rise actually means: that we are continuing full speed ahead with an unprecedented experiment with our planet, the only home we have.”
410 parts per million is closer than ever to the level that scientists begin to classify as unsafe. “It’s another milestone in the upward increase in CO2 over time,” said Ralph Keeling, head of the CO2 programme at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
“It puts us closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory.”
The Earth’s CO2 levels have been this high before, but only when sea levels were far higher. Back then, Antarctica didn’t exist because the Earth was so warm, so you can imagine the potential for disaster that exists should we continue on the path that we’re on.
The last time the Earth’s CO2 levels were pushing 450-500 parts per million, it ‘was sustained over long periods of time, whereas today the global CO2 concentration is increasing rapidly’, according to a report co-authored by Hayhoe.
The huge increase in our current CO2 level dates back just 200 years – in fact, before the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, the level was just 280 parts per million.
If you’re feeling terrible about this, then perhaps we can look again to the incomparable Douglas Adams. On the subject inevitable death, he wrote the following: “Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far.
“Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.”