Wednesday 22 May 2019

Record CO2 levels prove we all have to take climate change seriously


Our View

Many readers may not be familiar with Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii but in recent days the volcano was the sight of a landmark event in the history of our species and our planet.

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii; it is one of the largest volcanoes on the planet; it is between 700,000 and a million years old and, though active, it was still covered by glaciers during the last ice age some 25,000 years ago.

The volcano is also home to the Mauna Loa atmospheric observatory and it was there, on May 3, that a potentially defining moment for our planet was recorded.

Though it might seem counter-intuitive to locate an atmospheric laboratory atop a volcano but it is far from any densely populated area and high above the atmosphere's 'Inversion Layer' where smog and other pollution can be trapped due to air temperature and this makes it one of the best places on the planet to measure carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

On May 3, scientists there recorded the highest level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the history of humanity.

That day the stations instruments detected carbon dioxide levels of over 415 particles per million (ppm) in the atmosphere.

To put that into context, in the 10,000 years leading up to the industrial revolution evidence shows the level was about 280ppm.

Researchers believe that current concentrations are the highest witnessed for at least 800,000 years.

If that doesn't provide people the world over with major cause for concern it's hard to know what could.

While 415 parts per millions may not sound like a huge amount, scientists have known for decades that even trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere can raise temperatures around the world.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the planet is now almost one degree hotter than it was at the start of the industrial revolution in the mid 1800's.

In fact the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with 2015 to 2018 making up the top four.

Again, in a day to day context a one degree increase might not seem that significant but in global terms it is enormous.

Scientists believe that if the average global temperature was to increase by just one more degree - something it is felt could happen within decades - it could be the tipping point that leads to uncontrollable climate change that threatens the future of humanity.

Parts of the earth would become uninhabitable and sea levels would rise dramatically, leading to a domino-effect of crisis from mass starvation to mass extinctions.

Governments and industry have been slow to take action and with 60 per cent of pollution produced by just 10 countries, it often seems there is little that can be done.

That's simply not the case. Every one of us can help by making minor changes to how we live. One person trying to lower their carbon footprint won't do much but if there's a few billion people doing it, the impact would be huge.

Surely we owe to ourselves, our children and our planet to start taking these warnings seriously. Time is running out.

Enniscorthy Guardian