Earth reaches CO2 threshold

Sam Griffiths reports about our carbon footprint that just won’t wash away

17th October 2016

With Brexit, the continuing refugee crisis and war in Syria, and the upcoming US election, 2016 is going to be a very significant year in the history books of the future. However, most importantly, 2016 will go down as the year that the world permanently passed the carbon dioxide threshold.

"2016 will go down as the year that the world permanently passed the carbon dioxide threshold"

The carbon dioxide threshold of 400ppm (parts per million) has been passed before at certain parts of the year, but never before in September. During September, atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its lowest. This is because the northern hemisphere, where the majority of CO2 emissions come from, has just had Spring and Summer. During these seasons, plants and trees take more carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, but as the Northern hemisphere moves into Winter those plants decompose. This releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increases CO2 ppm.

There is no likelihood of us dropping back below the threshold anytime soon either. According to scientists CO2 levels will not drop back below the threshold anytime in our lifetimes. Carbon pollution levels have not decreased since before the industrial revolution and there are no signs of this trend reversing, especially with even more countries undergoing the process of industrialisation.

Now we have passed the threshold, there appears to be no turning back. In spite of the Paris Agreement confirmed earlier this year, which is set to come into effect on November 4th, the hope that the world’s temperature will not increase by more than 2°C by 2100 looks ever more doubtful. The symbolic passing of the 400ppm threshold just serves to show the extent to which humans have altered the environment in just 150 years. We are now a long way away from the “safe” level of 350ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"There is no likelihood of us dropping back below the threshold anytime soon either..."

The Paris agreement was an important milestone in combating climate change caused by increased levels of greenhouse gases. But, it needs to be seen as the start of a new chapter rather than a culmination of human attempts to stop climate change.

There now needs to be a globally co-ordinated effort to minimise the impacts of the effects we have set in motion. A move away from fossil fuels to more green renewable energies, as well as stopping mass deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, is essential.

On a small scale individuals can also do their part by simply turning lights off when not in a room, and taking public transport or walking instead of going by car. There are many steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. However, for this to have any impact it needs to be part of a wider global mass commitment to conserving the planet. Otherwise the planet as we know it, will becoming increasingly inhospitable and unstable.

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