Today’s CO2 Levels Date Back 4 Million Years


| LAST UPDATE 06/06/2022

By Stanley Wickens
CO2 emissions levels today
zhongguo via Getty Images

It's no secret that climate change is on the rise - and as a consequence, so are CO2 levels. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today are now similar to what they were 4 million years ago.

Throughout human history, these levels of CO2 have never been witnessed before - today, measuring even higher than in the pre-industrial era, according to the main US climate agency. But what has been causing this huge increase in CO2 levels? Simply put, global warming caused by humans is to blame, especially through the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity, the production of cement, transportation, and even deforestation, the NOAA said. With the month of May normally being the time of year where CO2 levels are the highest, the measurements particularly stood out to scientists.

CO2 greenhouse gas measurements
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In May 2022, the CO2 levels in our atmosphere reached their peak level, crossing the 420 parts per million (ppm) threshold. This threshold, measured in units used to keep track of pollution in the air, has never been surpassed for as long as humans have roamed the planet. Scientists recorded CO2 levels at 419 ppm in 2021 and 417 ppm in 2020. Careful not to allow the results to be impacted by local pollution, researchers took their measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii on a high volcano. And when we take a look back at the past several decades, there are significant observations to be made...

In the pre-industrial era, levels of CO2 remained fairly consistent for nearly 6,000 years at 280 ppm. However, after human civilizations became industrialized, the number began to rise relatively drastically. "CO2 levels are now comparable to the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when they were close to, or above 400 ppm. During that time, sea levels were between 5 and 25 meters higher than today, high enough to drown many of the world's largest modern cities," said the NOAA in a statement. Since CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat and remains in the atmosphere and oceans for thousands of years, its consequences need our immediate attention. Among them are heat waves, droughts, fires, or floods, which our planet is unfortunately already witnessing. Will the new measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere urge humans across the world to take decisive action? Guess we'll have to wait to find out...

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