“Standing on the Shores of Disaster” Global Average CO2 Exceeds 400 PPM In March

“This may not be our climate rubicon, but we’re certainly standing on the shores of disaster, 400 ppm is well past the point of safety which many scientists put at 350 ppm.” Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of 350.org in an interview to Huffington Post on May 6.

*  *  *  *

New reports out from NOAA today showed that in March of this year global average CO2 levels broke the 400 parts per million monthly average for the first time in the climate record. These levels, which include a measure of all global readings, are the highest seen by the inhabitants of Earth in at least three million years.

NOAA CO2

(Global average CO2 levels exceed 400 parts per million for the first time in March. Image source: NOAA.)

The Mauna Loa measure, which we’ve been using for record keeping here, first exceeded the 400 ppm threshold back in 2013, with monthly averages hitting 401.8 ppm in May of 2014. This year, Mauna Loa daily measures began exceeding 400 parts per million in January and have hit as high as 404.8 parts per million in recent weeks.

Southern Hemisphere averages lag those in the Northern Hemisphere, which accounts for the global average delay.

This inauspicious milestone comes with a massive burning of fossil fuels that now dumps more than 10 billion tons of carbon (37 billion tons of CO2 equivalent) into the atmosphere every year. It’s a ridiculous rate of burning — likely one that is six times faster than at any time in the deep history of Earth.

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,” Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s greenhouse gas network, said in an interview to  The Guardian Wednesday. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

This is a level far exceeding the 350 parts per million safe limit recommended by scientists. A level that, if maintained, is enough to warm the world by 2-3 degrees Celsius long term and cause enough ice to destabilize and slide into the ocean to raise sea levels by 60 feet or more. And if you add in all the other greenhouse gasses, the problem looks even worse — with about 484 parts per million of CO2 equivalent gasses circulating and trapping heat in the Earth atmosphere.

The problem is that once the CO2 is in the atmosphere and oceans, it takes a long time to become sequestered. It generates extra heat for decades, centuries and millennia. Tackling this issue not only involves rapidly moving to a zero carbon civilization. It involves changing the way we do business in a manner that is less disruptive to Earth systems. In a way that allows for the carbon sinks to vitalize and take up a portion of the massive volumes of carbon we’ve emitted.

But we’re nowhere near achieving that goal. Though carbon emissions stabilized in 2014 due to rapid adoption of renewable energy sources, continuing to emit at current rates is a recipe for disaster. What we need is a very rapid draw down to zero emissions.

Links:

Global Carbon Dioxide Levels Topped 400 Parts Per Million in March

Carbon Dioxide Levels Break 400 Part Per Million Milestone

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

350.org

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Hat Tip to Greg

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33 Comments

  1. Yeah, Robert.
    I think “The Brink” has arrived at our door. We (humans) have been sharpening this carbon guillotine over our heads, and which we created, for too long.
    Still, we must at least work to cushion the blow(s) with our empathy and knowledge.
    Thanks for the update.
    Peace

    OUT

    Reply
    • eric smith

       /  May 7, 2015

      Yeh. I too sense a different wind in the air starting about this year. The crash is here and clearly visible and unaviodable. I spent my life coming up with a rational concept of how to proceed and was ignored by family and friends as well as business and governmental contacts. Such a waste of a life.

      Reply
      • Eric, I don’t think so. I can’t think so. You were preparing some of the ground, planting some of the seeds. We are all called to do what we can and so we just keep it up. That is not a wasted life.
        Blessings.

        Reply
      • wili

         /  May 7, 2015

        What Joni said. And what would have been a better use of your time than doing all that you could to avert the very worst? It does kind of sound like the story of my life, though.

        Reply
      • Griffin

         /  May 7, 2015

        You know what? Every single one of you that has posted something on Robert’s blog has helped to influence me. I have not sat still with the knowledge that you have helped impart upon me. I have used it to help inform others, and they have learned from it and helped to bring this issue into more of a mainstream subject. Maybe my influence upon this world has been miniscule, but it would not have happened without all of you. That is a positive influence upon others. In the end, I think that is all we can hope for, that we helped instead of hurt. We are are all temporary, and none of it is wasted. I am thankful to be one of the relatively few in this world who has the internet access to read this blog and be educated. And I am thankful to all of the contributions here. They do make a difference. So thank you for helping me!

        Reply
      • I’m not so sure you wasted “anything” in this epic struggle against huge and formidable odds. Galileo and others had very similar problems.
        As for me, to not try, is unconscionable and worse than a thousand sins.
        Besides, we’re still here — still trying, while many others have a supreme price.
        We’re still “afloat’ — so grab a line — and Heave, Ho. Ha.🙂
        Peace

        Reply
      • “others have (PAID) a supreme price.”

        !!! I’ve gotta start putting my eye glasses on before i hit the SEND button.!!!

        Reply
  2. “We rounded up a few scientists here at NASA and asked them what passing 400 ppm means to them.”

    http://climate.nasa.gov/400ppmquotes/

    Reply
    • Greg

       /  May 7, 2015

      Thanks! Quotes from these scientists, who are our true conservatives, include: “unexpected implications”, “the next threshold being a point of no return”, “maybe higher than any time in the last 25 million years”, “Time to get lean and go green”, “Wow!”,”Scary scorecard: catastrophic climate change 400″, “inadvertently chosen the double-black diamond run”, “threat to life on Earth”, “should be a psychological tripwire for everyone”

      Reply
      • RE: “psychological tripwire”, I tried many, many ways to find this sort of thing in Santa Barbara, CA, regarding soot, traffic dust, aerosol pollution and their effects on the urban landscape. A marvelous success rate of about .00035 percent. Some at least took notice but most just stick their heads back in the proverbial “sand” of will full ignorance. The concept of survival somehow was of little importance.
        -I’ve got a backlog of evidence photos, so here’s one showing a buildup of black soot on the architecture of a ‘Spanish’ themed white walls and red tiles so much (but very revealing) in use in SB and So Cal.
        Note the bas relief effects of soot on the outside walls of large upscale shopping mall. You can see the beam and steel frames that provide a haven for soot to collect on the slightly recessed white surfaces. And see the plume of gray and black dust on the sloping surface below the corner of the red tiled roof near the foreground.
        DT

        Reply
      • – The SB photo above: the walls were all white until about 2011, which is a year after I warned all that a serious issue was in the making. They still may not “get it'”

        Reply
      • Ps the soot is “carbon black” and the heavier versions of carbon while the attendant climate destructive CO2 went high into the atmosphere.

        Reply
    • Spike

       /  May 7, 2015

      Great link many thanks.

      Reply
      • rustj2015

         /  May 7, 2015

        Yes, thank you. Though I wonder what result of the “psychological tripwire”…

        Reply
  3. Tom

     /  May 7, 2015

    Great report Robert. The technology to re-sequester CO2 on the scale needed to make a difference hasn’t been invented, isn’t on the drawing board and won’t be funded by the corporate owned governments of the world (especially if TPP goes through), so the only conclusion is that we’re on our way out. Now that methane has jumped into the action (as well as 45 or so other “positive” feedbacks), we’re just biding our time until the food shortages, calamitous weather, mass species die-off and other effects take hold. Sooner or later all the nuke plants we created will go Fukushima too, since there isn’t enough time left to ‘safely’ decommission them. Lots of fun ahead, kids – stay tuned! (as George Carlin would say.)

    Reply
  4. Andy in San Diego

     /  May 7, 2015

    Check out the depletion of 2nd year ice. Compression?

    Reply
    • Spike

       /  May 7, 2015

      Interesting how all the old ice is over the Greenland/Alaskan/Canadian side, with Russia essentially free of old ice. Does that reflect more warming over Siberia, as reported a year ago in their press?

      http://siberiantimes.com/ecology/opinion/news/siberia-is-warming-faster-than-anywhere-in-the-world-warns-top-russian-geophysicist/

      Reply
      • Ouse M.D.

         /  May 7, 2015

        And a possible netagive feedback from Greenland fresh water outflow.
        Of course, it´s only temporarily a negative feedback.
        Those first- year ice patches south of the North Pole are very disturbing.

        Reply
    • Looks like compression, Fram and Nares export, the impact of a warm winter. But may also want to consider Basal melt in an arc from the Greenland gap through the Russian side and on toward the Bering. We’ve had quite a lot of warm water invasion coming from both oceans at depth. Usually, there’s not too much mixing with the surface. But something worth keeping an eye on.

      Didn’t show up in the volume measures, so it doesn’t have that support. But may want to poke a bit and see what drops out.

      Reply
  5. Greg

     /  May 7, 2015

    According to Dr. Jeff Masters atmospheric moisture will remain extremely rich in the “stubborn upper low parked over the Southwest”. This system brought 50 or so tornadoes to the region last night and reports of as much as 11 inches of rain in parts of Nebraska. Also, the nearly stationary area of disturbed weather off the coast of South Carolina will bring some serious first of season tropical weather to the Carolinas this weekend. These now increasingly common stationary systems are one of the gifts of 400 ppm.
    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2976

    Reply
  6. Greg

     /  May 7, 2015

    How do we get back down from 400 ppm? from almost 1.5 tons per human being per year? We certainly need some way forward with changing our energy system and within the context of our political/ industrial economy. Could a new bill based on consumer choice and market fairness change the framework at the federal level? King, an Independent Senator from Maine with a background in the energy business, introduced legislation this week that avoids mandates, and instead creates “a broad set of parameters” for valuing and integrating distributed generation on the grid. The bill, called the Free Market Energy Act of 2015 has some really hopeful responses from all sides “Senator King introduced this bill with a free-market message, not a climate change message. That shows the message … is resonating on all sides of the political spectrum.”
    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/can-personal-energy-independence-move-congress-on-clean-energy

    Reply
    • Ouse M.D.

       /  May 7, 2015

      There’s nothing as effective as nature itself when it comes to CO2 sequestration. And it takes even nature 1000s to millions of years to do it.
      The idea, that human technology will be able to do it, and do it much faster- based simply on the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics-
      is an ILLUSION.
      Our technology is effective only in raising the overall entropy- not the other way round, unfortunately.

      Reply
      • Greg

         /  May 7, 2015

        Nature captures CO2 as a byproduct of its processes, not as a purpose or intent, of course, and thus operates on very long human timescales. Our survival depends on us intentionally now sequestering carbon, beginning before we even stop emitting ancient carbon, using natural and artificial means. It will require enormous amounts of energy and resources as the laws of physics are, as you have pointed out, immutable. The key will be going against entropy and again, that will require harnessing tremendous amounts of energy and focusing it on this herculean task, but we have no other choice. It will become, in my opinion, the prime directive of the next several generations or we can shrug our shoulders and simply have another Scotch.

        Reply
      • Andy in YKD

         /  May 7, 2015

        Greg,

        You said ” It will require enormous amounts of energy and resources as the laws of physics are, as you have pointed out, immutable. The key will be going against entropy and again, that will require harnessing tremendous amounts of energy”

        I could be wrong, or maybe I misunderstood, but using energy to reverse entropy and coming out ahead is a non-starter. . . .it would require a deux ex machina, or something.

        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/entropy

        What is proven to work is increasing the complexity/connections/ energy transfers in living systems in order to slow the rate of entropy. It is no accident that as we reduce ecosystem complexity and biomass of both above ground and below ground life that the atmosphere is heating up. At a very basic level we have a societal carbon management problem based on a drive to turn the living planet into dead products for profit.

        Reply
    • Greg

       /  May 7, 2015

      “Bank of America’s new policy arose from pressure from universities and environmental groups, the bank said.”

      Reply
  7. Andy in San Diego

     /  May 7, 2015

    Military Could Step in Over Brazil Drought Chaos
    ======================================

    The drought in the Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo has become so severe that local authorities are considering bringing in military personnel to cope with the possible social chaos.

    With over 11 million residents, Sao Paulo is Brazil’s most populous city and the country’s economic center. But senior officials at Sao Paulo’s water facility said residents might soon be evacuated because there is not enough water, to bathe or to clean homes.

    http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Military-Could-Step-in-Over-Brazil-Drought-Chaos-20150506-0040.html

    Reply
    • Andy in San Diego

       /  May 7, 2015

      Note: the emergency construction is to try to get the Billings Dam water in line for the city & county. The problem is that water is severely contaminated and is unfit for consumption (or much else).

      Reply
  8. Country’s Staunchest Climate Deniers. Why That’s Changing Fast.

    Keah Schuenemann, a meteorology professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, has never met an atmospheric or climate scientist who doesn’t agree that most of the planet’s warming over the last century is a result of human activity. Weather forecasters though, whom she deals with regularly, are a different story. Schuenemann, who has a PhD in atmospheric and oceanic science from the University of Colorado, Boulder, said she’s been exposed to a “whole slew of forecasters who don’t understand climate science.”

    For better or worse, forecasters are the vanguard of educating the masses on this issue — and an educated public could go a long way in redirecting the domestic debate and galvanizing action to actually address climate change. Until now they’ve shirked this role. Either out of indecision, external pressures, or a lack of interest, weather forecasters — the public-facing figures who hold their audience’s trust as well as their attention — are yet to take the lead in forecasting climate change.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/07/3653307/where-have-all-the-climate-denying-weather-forecasters-gone/

    Reply
  9. Kevin Jones

     /  May 8, 2015

    A rather succinct quote from James Butler, director NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, at end of this short piece: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150507084211.htm

    Reply
  10. Kevin Jones

     /  May 9, 2015

    “Elimination of about 80 per cent of fossil fuel emissions would essentially stop the rise in carbon dioxide…” James Butler So just to stop making the situation worse while we wait for 400ppm CO2 to work its forcing through the system(s) over the next 1000 years, or so, we 7.3 billion must slash the exhalations of our fossil fuel burning from 10 billion tons per year to 2 billion tons per year. And THAT miracle would still mean an eventual sea level rise of 10, 20, thirty meters? Well, Chris Christie just pulled his pinkie out of the GOP dike of denial while at my home town’s Country Club. Keep hope alive! (have I died and gone to Hell?)

    Reply
  1. NASA Shows Human Hothouse Maintaining Record High Temperatures for 2015 | robertscribbler

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