“If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we need urgent action to curb new emissions of these heat trapping gases. Time is running out.“-WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud
In April this year, mankind broke barriers in climate change never before surpassed in human history. Did we plant more trees, recycle more, push back against the grim onslaught on our world as we know it?
Nothing so cheerful. For the first time in possibly millions of years, the monthly average CO2 level in April in the Northern Hemisphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm), reported the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Whilst CO2 levels have topped 400 ppm before, this is the first time that the monthly average has done the same.
What do these fancy words mean? “Parts per million” refers to the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to other molecules in the atmosphere; 400 ppm means that in every litre of dry air, 4/10th or 400 mL is made up of CO2.
Take this for context — global CO2 levels were at about 275 ppm from the beginning of human civilization until the 18th century, when rapid industrialization began our deadly burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. Carbon and oxygen had several grotesque meet cutes, and have never parted since. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2013 average CO2 values stood at 396.48 ppm, which represents a 44% increase from 1750.
And the growth rate just keeps increasing. For the past decade (2004-2013), the average annual ppm increase was 2.1 ppm per year. In the prior decade (1994-2003), the figure was 1.9 ppm per year. 2012-2013 saw a sharpening of the trend, with values increasing by about 3 ppm. April 2013-2014 has seen an increase of 2.95 ppm.
To be blunt, CO2 levels are skyrocketing far faster than anything previously observed. Estimated CO2 levels for the next decade will put us in territory that we have not broached in 3.6 million years.
Why Should We Care About CO2?
The greenhouse effect is simple: A cocktail of greenhouse gases — including water vapor, CO2, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and nitrous oxide — act as a thermal blanket for the earth. When working as they should, they trap enough of escaping heat to maintain the earth at a life-sustaining temperature averaging 15 degrees celsius. But human activities have disrupted this process. Among other things, the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation release great quantities of carbon dioxide: a long-lived gas that remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, longer in the oceans, and is a main factor in forcing climate change.
The resultant warming of the earth has bleak connotations for the safety and health of our planet. Temperatures have risen by 1 degree celsius since the 1850-70 average of 13.6ºC. Does it sound very little? How about when I mention Super Typhoon Haiyan and rising sea levels that will put other coastal populations in danger, extreme weather events such as the 2010 Russian heat wave and 2011 Texas heat wave, research that suggests that severe US and UK winters in 2013/14 may also be caused by rising global temperatures, droughts and melting glaciers that threaten water supplies or that rising acidity in oceans caused by absorbed CO2 are putting shelled animals in serious risk? Will you scoff and skepticize and call me out on hyperbole?
Because, GOOD. It is hyperbole. The whole situation is hyperbole, is roiling drama that belongs on our screens and books; and not in our homes and countries, in the heat and cold that we suffer, or in lives lost and cities disappeared.
Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagaarde, says this:
“The science is sobering – the global temperature in 2012 was among the hottest since records began in 1880. Make no mistake: without concerted action, the very future of our planet is in peril.”
So. When you see an article that begins like this: “For the first time in millions of years, monthly average CO² levels in April in the Northern Hemisphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm)…” don’t think to yourself, Oh, another climate change article. Skip. Because if we were frightened enough for ourselves and our children and their children as well? There’d be no damn articles.
You’ve read the articles, you’ve seen the posters, you’ve been advised and challenged and exhorted a hundred times. I don’t have to repeat the steps you can take to help address the greatest problem facing the continued existence of mankind on earth. This is new technology we should know about. Considering alternative means of transport is important- refer to this. Think about and research legislation and nation-wide implementation, and also about small community efforts. On a personal level, do this, this and let your kids read this. To borrow a cliché that rings with truth, it’s never too early to start.
What I want to convey is this: the awareness is there, the knowledge is at your fingertips, the steps are undemanding — so where’s your urgency? I know plenty of people – well-educated and informed people – who nevertheless find themselves woefully unstirred. If I were Shakespeare, I’d write a clarion call — from this day to the end of the world! — but now I’m getting carried away. I only have simple words. Simple images. When I close my eyes and picture in my head the places I love, the people I love, each memory so distinct and cherished, I cannot help but want to protect it all.
The earth is burning in our hands, it’s slipping through our fingers. Don’t let the ball drop on our watch.
At The Flounce, we don’t want to pontificate theory from a soapbox, we want to do. Social responsibility is at the heart of who we are.
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