Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Just Reached a Record High

That doesn't sound ominous at all

Carbon dioxide vent
A carbon dioxide vent.
Douglas Barnum, U.S. Geological Survey, Public Domain

If you’ve ever wanted to live at a time when carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in millions of years, congratulations! According to a new report in The New York Times, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve ever been in four million years.

As a brief reminder, four million years ago was when these ancestors of modern humanity were around.

The article states that, in May, carbon dioxide was “nearly 421 parts per million” in the atmosphere. In May of 2021, that level was at 419 parts per million, as noted in this Washington Post article. Because of the way plants in the Northern Hemisphere grow, May is the month when carbon dioxide levels are at their highest.

Those levels have continued to increase over the years, albeit with a short respite in 2020 due to the early days of the pandemic. And if you’re concerned about climate change — and, more specifically, the increases in global temperature that could lead to a host of disastrous situations — carbon dioxide plays a massive role there.

In pre-industrial times, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were significantly lower — around 280 parts per million. Though even returning to this won’t be easy — the Times quotes Pieter Tans, a scientist at the NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, who spoke of a “long tail” effect continuing to have an impact on the environment as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels lowered slowly. It’s a global challenge, and this latest milestone only reinforces that.

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