[Marxism] CO2 levels higher than in 3 million years

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 10 16:52:58 MDT 2013

NY Times May 10, 2013
Carbon Dioxide Level Passes Long-Feared Milestone

The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, 
carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported 
on Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions 
of years.

Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily 
level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in 
one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring 
human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air 
has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans 
evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the 
climate and the level of the sea.

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this 
problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new 

Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps 
Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could 
be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of 
keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable 
thresholds,” he said.

The new measurement came from analyzers high atop Mauna Loa, the volcano 
on the big island of Hawaii that has long been ground zero for 
monitoring the worldwide carbon dioxide trend.

Devices there sample clean, crisp air that has blown thousands of miles 
across the Pacific Ocean, producing a record of rising carbon dioxide 
levels that has been closely tracked for half a century.

Carbon dioxide above 400 parts per million was first seen in the Arctic 
last year, and had also spiked above that level in hourly readings at 
Mauna Loa. But the average reading for an entire day surpassed that 
level at Mauna Loa for the first time in the 24 hours that ended at 8 
p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, according to data from both NOAA 
and Scripps.

Carbon dioxide rises and falls on a seasonal cycle and the level will 
dip below 400 this summer, as leaf growth in the Northern Hemisphere 
pulls about 10 billion tons of carbon out of the air. But experts say 
that will be a brief reprieve — the moment is approaching when no 
measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will 
produce a reading below 400.

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. 
Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist.

 From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know 
that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a 
tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages, 
to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that 
global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the 
carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But 
the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the 
heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological 
instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though 
they expect far larger changes in the future.

Governments have been trying since 1992 to rein in emissions, but far 
from slowing, emissions are rising at an accelerating pace, thanks 
partly to rapid economic growth in developing countries. Scientists fear 
the level of the gas could triple or even quadruple before being brought 
under control.

Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide 
level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an 
epoch called the Pliocene. Geological research shows that the climate 
then was far warmer than today, the world’s ice caps were smaller, and 
the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher.

Experts fear that humanity may be precipitating a return to such 
conditions — except this time, billions of people are in harm’s way.

“It takes a long time to melt ice, but we’re doing it,” Dr. Keeling 
said. “It’s scary.”

Dr. Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, began carbon dioxide 
measurements on Mauna Loa and at other locations in the late 1950s. The 
elder Dr. Keeling found a level in the air then of about 315 parts per 
million — meaning that if a person had filled a million quart jars with 
air, about 315 quart jars of carbon dioxide would have been mixed in.

His analysis revealed a relentless, long-term increase superimposed on 
the seasonal cycle, a trend that was dubbed the Keeling Curve. 
Subsequent research proved it was coming from the combustion of fossil 
fuels. Charles David Keeling died in 2005.

Countries have adopted an official target to limit the damage from 
global warming, which by most estimates requires that emissions stop by 
the time the level reaches about 450. “Unless things slow down, we’ll 
probably get there in well under 25 years,” Ralph Keeling said.

Yet many countries, including China and the United States, have refused 
to adopt binding national targets. Scientists say that unless far 
greater efforts are made soon, the goal of limiting the warming will 
become impossible without severe economic disruption.

“If you start turning the Titanic long before you hit the iceberg, you 
can go clear without even spilling a drink of a passenger on deck,” said 
Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at the Pennsylvania State 
University. “If you wait until you’re really close, spilling a lot of 
drinks is the best you can hope for.”

Climate-change contrarians, who have little scientific credibility but 
are politically influential in Washington, point out that carbon dioxide 
represents only a tiny fraction of the air — as of Thursday’s reading, 
exactly .04 percent. “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather 
undramatic,” a Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher, 
said in a Congressional hearing several years ago.

But climate scientists reject that argument, saying it is like claiming 
that a tiny bit of arsenic or cobra venom cannot have much effect. 
Research shows that even at such low levels, carbon dioxide is potent at 
trapping heat near the surface of the earth.

“If you’re looking to stave off climate perturbations that I don’t 
believe our culture is ready to adapt to, then significant reductions in 
CO2 emissions have to occur right away,” said Mark Pagani, a Yale 
geochemist who studies climates of the past. “I feel like the time to do 
something was yesterday.”

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