Earth Hits Record Carbon Dioxide Levels

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii is a benchmark site for measuring carbon dioxide, or CO2.

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii is a benchmark site for measuring carbon dioxide, or CO2.
Photo: NOAA

Carbon dioxide levels on the only planet known to be habitable are now more than 50% higher than pre-industrial levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association reported Friday. They’re at the highest levels in millions of years.

CO2 levels measured last month at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory reached 421 parts per million. It’s a devastating milestone, but not surprising, considering that both 2020 and 2021 saw record-breaking carbon levels despite a temporary dip during initial pandemic lockdowns two years ago. Vehicles, power plants, and industries all over the world continue to churn out emissions, far outpacing any climate crisis mitigation efforts.

Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels were consistently around 280 parts per million for about 6,000 years. As more technology developed, people and corporations began to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. As atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases increased, oil and gas companies worked to hide the connection between human activity and the changing climate. Those companies have spread misinformation for decades to push the responsibility onto the consumers instead of their operations.

This has had severe consequences for the planet in the form of extreme weather events like longer heat waves, high rates of pollution and public health crises, intense droughts, extinctions, and more. Mitigation efforts like the Paris Agreement, which was adopted by many countries in 2015, offered some hope we could turn things around. But from the looks of it, we’re not just heading in the wrong direction; we’re throwing ourselves there at lightning speed.

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