Johannes Feddema, Professor and Chair of Climatology at UVic calls the situation “unprecedented” in human history. (Don Bodger/Peninsula News Review File)

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

Researchers have announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is now at levels not seen for at least 2.5 million years.

We can all now claim part of the dubious honour of living in a time no other humans have ever experienced.

ALSO READ: Top 10 Climate Change myths debunked

Carbon dioxide levels recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii hit 415 parts per million (ppm) last week. This is more than 100 ppm higher than at any time in the 800,000 years of data scientists have access to on world carbon dioxide concentrations. For perspective, the last time these levels hit 300ppm, humans didn’t exist.

Scientists say while the earth has gone through periods of cooling and warming in the past, these events have taken a very long time to occur. For nearly a million years carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been, on average, 280 ppm, not rising above 300 ppm or dipping below 160 ppm. In the past, global warming has happened gradually over thousand-year periods, while the latest human-caused warming event is happening over just a couple of centuries.

Johannes Feddema, professor and chair of climatology at UVic, says the rate of temperature change is alarming, but unfortunately not unexpected. He says over the 18,000 years from the Ice Age to 1900, the rate of temperature change was 0.036. During the 100-year period from 1900 to 2000, the temperature change was 0.7 – a 20-fold increase. And worryingly, Feddema says over the last 20 years, “We have almost matched that 100-year record in increase, in CO2.”

Ice cores from the Antarctic ice sheet preserve snapshots of how much greenhouse gas was in the atmosphere over hundreds of thousands of years. Readings taken from them show a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Over the past 10 years, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by an average of 2.5 ppm every year, hitting 400 ppm in 2013.

“It’s unprecedented, as far as human history is concerned. We’ve never seen this before,” says Feddema.

“However, from a climate science point of view this is absolutely not unexpected. What is disconcerting is that despite all the discussions we’ve had, Paris, Copenhagen, etc. [United Nations climate talks], we’re not slowing down at all and we’re on a trajectory some call business as usual, but worse. We haven’t really made any dents about doing something about this.”

ALSO READ: Slaying dragons: getting inside the minds of climate change skeptics

So why we aren’t we seeing catastrophic effects yet? Feddema makes an analogy linking the earth, covered in oceans, to a pot of water boiling on a stove. It might take a while to get going but once it starts boiling it is difficult to stop, even after turning off the heat.

“We have a certain momentum going here that even if we manage to do everything right, things are going to continue to change for a while. And a while being in the order of a hundred years.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Climate change

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Council of the Haida Nation releases guidelines for expanding social circles

Next steps also say outdoor spaces such as parks, playgrounds, trails may be reopening for day use

Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay wins ‘Most Outstanding School’ award

B.C. School Sports will present school with banner, add GTN to plaque as winners of 2019-2020 year

‘A time of transition:’ CHN looking to release next steps of pandemic response this week

State of local emergency is in effect; Gaagwiis says CHN developing indicators to guide next steps

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach urges feds to compensate airline passengers

Letter to transport minister touches on Northwest B.C. tourism operators impacted by COVID-19

Two new bridges to be built along Highway 16 between Port Clements, Tlell

Ministry of Transportation says $5.4-million project expected to be complete in fall 2020

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

B.C.’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics goes virtual

The annual event partnering RCMP with Special Olympians is dramatically altered by COVID-19

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Bateman program encourages people to sketch outside, connect with nature

#MyNatureSketch initiative encourages Canadians to become ‘bright-eyed three year olds’

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

Most Read