Like some unprecedented mass shooting, it’s the kind of record-breaking news one tends to think twice about discussing at the breakfast table.
As reported by Popular Science, among many other media outlets, late last week the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured carbon levels in the atmosphere at 415 parts per million. That’s more than 100 ppm higher than any point in almost 1 million years’ worth of atmospheric data available.
For nearly a million years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have maintained an average of about 280 ppm, not going above 300 ppm or below 160 ppm…the latest human-caused warming event is occurring over just a couple of centuries, which is so quick in comparison that the trend line appears vertical as it approaches today.
Do we actually still need to wonder why this is happening?
“Not only does the upward trend directly correlate with the start of the Industrial Revolution, but based on tracked data on human emissions and our understanding of the rate at which nature absorbs some of those emissions…, there’s an increasing amount of leftover carbon dioxide in the air that only our activities can account for.”
And much of that experienced in cities, limiting human connection to the natural environment which gave us the very resources on which we so depend, and which is now poisoned, sick, and beginning to reject our continued advances.
Then, there’s the natural follow-up question — could we not have allowed it to get this far along?
Perhaps at this point it could be helpful to dwell just a bit on the shortsightedness, even willful blindness, of the Cold War-era global leaders who received and read the warnings of pioneers of the environmental science movement (like Syukuro Manabe, Paul Ehrlich, John Sawyer, and countless others), but failed to act in any meaningful way for two subsequent generations.
“…when the Mauna Loa Observatory began observing greenhouse gas levels directly from the atmosphere 60 years ago, the concentration was already at 315 ppm. In 2013, these levels exceeded 400 ppm for the first time in human history.”
That from yesterday’s Washington Post, which, in addition to showing a slightly different (but somehow more alarming) visualization of the CO2 rise, also reported on the climate change canaries dropping off their spring-time perches across the planet’s northern regions:
- 84-87 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 Celsius) recorded in northern Russia
- 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius) recorded in Finland
- A 1-month early ice sheet melt in Greenland
- Unseasonably early winter ice break-up in several Alaskan rivers
So then, what about today? Are we moving on this as fast as we possibly can?
A cursory Google News search shows many cities and nations are indeed taking it seriously. (If you want action, look no further than Vancouver’s approved “Big Moves” response to the climate emergency, and tell me if you’ve seen a more aggressive plan in North America.)
Others…not so much. Using the federal carbon tax as a straw man for political posturing and a blatantly populist appeal to the nearsighted concerns of their base, Doug Ford’s PC government in Ontario is trying to focus voters’ attention on a different number — 648.
The PCs’ new ad claims that the carbon tax will cost the average Ontario family some $648 per year by 2022.
They say that their own plan — which includes a fund of public money to help incentivize big polluters to reduce emissions and a focus on decreasing waste and litter — will fight climate change without costing taxpayers.
That’s a great idea. Solve one of the planet’s — and our species’ — greatest challenge by promising people they won’t have to change any of the behaviours that exacerbated our problems in the first place.
Or, as George W. Bush once famously put it, in the face of an epic clash of cultures and global terror, let’s all go shopping.