Record High Carbon Sounds Alarms

 Record High Carbon Sounds Alarms

Even as carbon pollution rebounds (and then some) since the pandemic’s peak lockdown, according to NOAA, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke a new record last month at 421 million parts per million (ppm), the highest level seen in around 4 million years. May 2022 also saw a record rate of carbon emissions at 36.3 billion tons. The figure is the highest of any month on record and comes after atmospheric carbon reached a three million-year high last October.

Idaho News 6: NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory measures record breaking CO2 levels, June 5, 2022.

Scripps Oceanography: The Keeling Curve Hits 420 PPM, June 3, 2021.

Why This Matters

To avoid crossing the dreaded 1.5-degree threshold of atmospheric warming, which scientists say is necessary to prevent climate change’s worst effects, countries need to make urgent transitions to clean energy. Instead, May’s emissions increase suggests many are trailing further off course, making disastrous sea-level rise, food shortage, wildfire, and extreme storms all the more likely.

TED: Why is 1.5 Degrees Such a Big Deal, October 13, 2020.

Reuters: World could see 1.5C of warming in next five years, May 10, 2022.

One cause of the staggering carbon pollution rebound is the resurgence of coal, particularly in China, which burned 4.6% more coal last year, the largest increase in a single year since 2011. The country also opted to move forward with plans to develop hundreds of new collieries. But other countries are also guilty of not keeping their commitments. A growing body of research indicates that the US must phase out gas and oil drilling by 2034, but developers increased drilling rigs by 60% last year alone. Worse, globally, Big Oil still has 195 new projects awaiting development, referred to by climate advocates as “carbon bomb” projects.

Reuters: Coal Surge Comes Too Late for China’s Old Mine Towns, November 11, 2021.

BBC: Why CO2 Matters For Climate Change, June 10, 20200.

A Chilling Milestone

The astronomic level of carbon seen in May is alarming as it marks a chilling new milestone: an increase of 150% since pre-industrial times. According to NOAA, the trend is similar to carbon increases that occurred 4.1 million years ago during the Pliocene era when the earth was seven degrees hotter, and high-sea levels kept much of Florida underwater.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 7, 2021.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.