Despite the increasing number of regulations and guidelines related to the burning of fossil fuels — as well as the spike in green technologies including solar and wind power — the Earth’s concentration of carbon dioxide continues to climb at an alarming rate. A new report from the United Nations reveals that last year’s CO2 levels were higher than they’d ever been for at least the past three million years.
Global levels of CO2 reached over 403 parts per million in 2016, and while that’s pretty bad news for any of us imagining that climate change can be curbed before humanity causes its own extinction, it turns out that this time it wasn’t entirely our fault.
To be clear, CO2 reaching historic highs is most definitely mankind’s doing, and because the gas is a primary contributor to the warming of the planet via the greenhouse effect, we’re actively contributing to climate change that will result in ever-stronger storms, higher sea levels, and more difficult food production. However, a variety of uncontrollable factors exacerbated the problem in 2016.
The weather — in particular “a strong El Niño event,” according to the United Nations’ weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) — caused the already way-too-high CO2 levels to ride even more rapidly, surging to the new record high and giving climate scientists plenty of reasons to worry.
“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”
At present, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing 100 times faster than they did during the end of the last ice age. In fact, the WMO notes that the most recent time in Earth’s history that CO2 concentrations were so high, the entire Earth was around three degrees warmer, and sea levels were up to 60 feet high than they are currently. If such a dramatic rise were to happen over the next 100 years, the coast of every country on the plant would look much different, and not in a good way.