On May 9 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached just below 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least two million years, a sign of looming climate chaos unless we transform society and our relationship with nature.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released information that its Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii detected that local atmospheric CO2 levels reached 399.84 ppm. For the last two centuries the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been rapidly increasing from accelerated burning of fossil fuels such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline. Most researchers argue that 350ppm is a safe level of atmospheric CO2, but no one knows for sure the level beyond which we will see a catastrophic rise in ocean levels and even more significant weather pattern changes.
The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing on an average of 2 ppm per year, and May is the time of year that the northern hemisphere reaches its natural peak of atmospheric CO2. This year the yearly average is expected to be around 396 ppm. Most researchers agree that the last time our planet saw this level of atmospheric CO2 was 2 to 3 million years ago, when sea levels were around 25 metres higher than their current levels. In that case the rise in CO2 occurred over thousands or tens of thousands of years. This means we don't yet know the consequences of this much CO2 in the atmosphere.
We have witnessed an increasing number of devastating weather events, and their frequency will no doubt rise as weather patterns become more skewed . One factor that has been widely neglected until recently is the increasing acidity in the world’s oceans as they absorb massive amounts of CO2. Because of rising ocean temperatures and acidity, an increasing amount of marine life lies in a dangerous zone of endangerment or extinction if our CO2 levels continue to increase.
In our capitalist system, the environment and lives of the present and future generations are always second priority to the generation of wealth in the hands of the few. This irresponsibility stands in the way of spending the money needed to shift to cleaner ways of generating mass energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Canada with its dedication to exploiting the Tar Sands has been worse than most in this regard. Reaching the 400ppm threshold is a warning call of the urgency of stopping climate chaos through green jobs and ecological revolution.
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