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

Two vehicle crash on Highway 97 in Penticton

The crash happened before 3:30 p.m. in front of the Lakeside Inn and Suites

Pooch abandoned at Penticton doggy daycare suffered from oral disease

A fundraiser for Okie held by the BC SPCA surpassed its goal of $1,700

Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department receives $25k grant

Money used on a truck with low volume, high pressure water pump to fight wildfires

Ryga Arts Festival to include virtual and in-person events

Arts festival in Summerland will run from Aug. 15 to 23

Okanagan and Shuswap MPs want federal funds to help stop invasive species

Concerns raised that spending favours Eastern Canada.

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Summerland Blossom Youth Ambassador Program to hold coronation

Event will be held by video as a result of COVID-19 precautions

Vernon shutterbugs capture rainbow

A rain event July 9 made way for a glorious sight

Couple shaken up after homophobic encounter at Kelowna mall

‘We’re not in the States; we’re not in some little hick town; we’re in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. And it still happens’

Summerland to allow in-person attendance at July 13 council meetings

Two meetings will be held at Summerland Arena Banquet Room to accommodate public

Fundraiser kicks off for Lake Country families displaced by house fire

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to raise $5K for those who lost everything in early morning blaze

Rescued hawk returned to Lumby skies

A rehabilitated Swainson’s hawk was returned to its Rawlings Lake habitat

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

Most Read