The annual peak of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air has hit another milestone: 50% higher than when the industrial age began.
And the average rate of the increase is faster than ever, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Monday.
Climate and weather are different conditions, but higher temperatures are worsening many types of weather disasters, including storms, heat waves, wildfires, floods and droughts. A warmer climate creates an atmosphere that can collect, retain and drop more water, changing weather patterns so that wet areas become wetter and dry areas drier, the National Resources Defense Council says.
For instance, as the Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and runs through November, at least one major forecasting body predicts another above-normal season after a catastrophic and expensive 2020.
The average carbon dioxide level for May was 419.13 parts per million, NOAA said. That’s 1.82 parts per million higher than May 2020 and 50% higher than the stable pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million.
May is a significant month to track the results. The highest monthly mean CO2 value of the year occurs then, just before plants in the northern hemisphere start to remove greater amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere during the growing season.
The one-year jump in carbon dioxide was not a record mainly because of the temporary cooling effects of a La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, Scripps Institution of Oceanography geochemist Ralph Keeling said. Scripps, which calculates the numbers slightly differently based on time and averaging, said the peak in May was 418.9 parts per million.
Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, said CO2 is by far the most greatest human-caused greenhouse gas and it lingers in the atmosphere and oceans for thousands of years after it is emitted.
“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” said Tans. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 — year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.”
CO2 pollution is generated by emissions from carbon-based fossil fuels
used for transportation and electrical generation, by cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture and other practices. Along with other greenhouse gases, CO2 traps outgoing heat from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space, causing the planet’s atmosphere to warm steadily.
The 10-year average rate of increase for CO2 also set a record, now up to 2.4 parts per million per year.
“Carbon dioxide going up in a few decades like that is extremely unusual,” Tans said. “For example, when the Earth climbed out of the last ice age, carbon dioxide increased by about 80 parts per million and it took the Earth system, the natural system, 6,000 years. We have a much larger increase in the last few decades.”
By comparison, it has taken only 42 years, from 1979 to 2021, to increase carbon dioxide by that same amount.
The Associated Press contributed.