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

Landlords are panicked

Risk is real for April rent and greater challenges are foreshadowed for May

Parade of welcome and love in Prince Rupert

Friends welcome new baby in drive by visit

Wage Subsidy up to 75 per cent announced

Businesses who have had a 30 per cent decrease can apply

UPDATE: Man drowns crossing Skeena River

59-year old Prince Rupert victim pronounced dead at Mills Memorial

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Call before you dig into spring projects during isolation: BC 1 Call

BC 1 Call gives free checks for utilities in the area of a desired outdoor project

B.C.’s intersection speed cameras putting more tickets in the mail

One Nanaimo location delayed after speed limit reduced

Most Read