Greenhouse gas milestone: CO2 levels set record

Worldwide levels of the chief greenhouse gas that causes global warming have hit a milestone, reaching an amount never before encountered by humans, federal scientists said Friday.
Associated Press
May 13, 2013


Carbon dioxide was measured at 400 parts per million at the oldest monitoring station which is in Hawaii sets the global benchmark. The last time the worldwide carbon level was probably that high was about 2 million years ago, said Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That was during the Pleistocene Era. "It was much warmer than it is today," Tans said. "There were forests in Greenland. Sea level was higher, between 10 and 20 meters (33 to 66 feet)."

Other scientists say it may have been 10 million years ago that Earth last encountered this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The first modern humans only appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

The measurement was recorded Thursday and it is only a daily figure, the monthly and yearly average will be smaller. The number 400 has been anticipated by climate scientists and environmental activists for years as a notable indicator, in part because it's a round number — not because any changes in man-made global warming happen by reaching it.

"Physically, we are no worse off at 400 ppm than we were at 399 ppm," Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. "But as a symbol of the painfully slow pace of measures to avoid a dangerous level of warming, it's somewhat unnerving."

Environmental activists, such as former Vice President Al Gore, seized on the milestone.

"This number is a reminder that for the last 150 years — and especially over the last several decades — we have been recklessly polluting the protective sheath of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth and protects the conditions that have fostered the flourishing of our civilization," Gore said in a statement. "We are altering the composition of our atmosphere at an unprecedented rate."

Carbon dioxide traps heat just like in a greenhouse and most of it stays in the air for a century; some lasts for thousands of years, scientists say. It accounts for three-quarters of the planet's heat-trapping gases. There are others, such as methane, which has a shorter life span but traps heat more effectively. Both trigger temperatures to rise over time, scientists say, which is causing sea levels to rise and some weather patterns to change.

When measurements of carbon dioxide were first taken in 1958, it measured 315 parts per million. Some scientists and environmental groups promote 350 parts per million as a safe level for CO2, but scientists acknowledge they don't really know what levels would stop the effects of global warming.

The level of carbon dioxide in the air is rising faster than in the past decades, despite international efforts by developed nations to curb it. On average the amount is growing by about 2 parts per million per year. That's 100 times faster than at the end of the Ice Age.

Back then, it took 7,000 years for carbon dioxide to reach 80 parts per million, Tans said. Because of the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, carbon dioxide levels have gone up by that amount in just 55 years.

Before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 ppm, and they were closer to 200 during the Ice Age, which is when sea levels shrank and polar places went from green to icy. There are natural ups and downs of this greenhouse gas, which comes from volcanoes and decomposing plants and animals. But that's not what has driven current levels so high, Tans said. He said the amount should be even higher, but the world's oceans are absorbing quite a bit, keeping it out of the air.

"What we see today is 100 percent due to human activity," said Tans, a NOAA senior scientist. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

The world pumps on average 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every second for a total of 38.2 billion tons in 2011, according international calculations published in a scientific journal in December. China spews 10 billion tons of carbondioxide into the air per year, leading all countries, and its emissions are growing about 10 percent annually. The U.S. at No. 2 is slowly cutting emissions and is down to 5.9 billion tons per year.

The speed of the change is the big worry, said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann. If carbon dioxide levels go up 100 parts per million over thousands or millions of years, plants and animals can adapt. But that can't be done at the speed it is now happening.

Last year, regional monitors briefly hit 400 ppm in the Arctic. But those monitoring stations aren't seen as a world mark like the one at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

Generally carbon levels peak in May then fall slightly, so the yearly average is usually a few parts per million lower than May levels.



The Bizness

That article is a post from a conservative news site with an anti climate change agenda.

Antarctic sea ice is completely different than arctic. Antarctica is surrounded by water which creates a circulation that keeps the continent pretty much secluded from effects seen in the rest of the world.

go to and check out the data for yourself.

My college professor works on this topic and he agrees that it is only 1/3 to 1/2 human caused. The problem is the speed it is happening.

"Truth is.....its all estimates and assuming and you know what assuming can do." - Science is based on data not assumptions. A scientist doesn't simply say, "Oh hey, that frog has 5 legs, must be because of some chemicals." No they go out and get data about the frogs environment, they have controls, and they run experiments.

This is why America is falling behind. People don't even understand scientific theory anymore.


The Bizness writes:

"Science is based on data not assumptions."

Sorry, but in a metaphysical sense all human "knowledge" is based on assumptions.

We describe the world indirectly using metaphors and know nothing directly.


The only people who deny global warming is real are conservatives, who are always at odds with anything built around evidence-based scientific data. Pay them no mind, for their motives are obvious: they support policies and companies that gain by making the global warming problem worse. See the trend?


@ coasterfan:

So ya think that the pool installers and AC mfgers are behind this conspiracy?

How much of your retirement money do you have in solar panel and wind turbine cos?

Do you put your money where your mouth is?


put your money where you mouth is coaster. Stop driving, stop polluting....etc.


It matters not what we do to the planet. It has, and always will recover. What matters is what we do to ourselves.


The parents in Clyde will be happy to know that the harm that we cause our planet does not affect them.


Read the last sentence of the post that you responded to.


Ahh yes, the attack of the liberal AP on the deniers, here's an article written by one of your liberal friends.

Interesting what mother Russians think of the west's global warming fallacy


Yes Eriemom, even the Love Canal children love you, you'll never get out of this world alive.


And the real reason behind global warming is Obozo seriously behind the lowering of the USA's status in the world


The planet can recover -- after we're gone .


Hahahaha, right !


eriemom writes:

"He gets all bent out of shape about cows farting."

Is methane a GH gas or not?

You read like a "cafeteria warmer," - pick and choose what you choose to harp on.

So for YOU to voluntarily become a vegan is IMPOSSIBLE; but advocating authoritarian central planning socialistic extreme AGW "solutions" on everyone else is preferable?

Why shouldn't CHANGE start with YOU?

And Al Gore isn't FAT? :)

At $200M in estimated assets, the rich AGW hypocrite could care less what I think.

Also, why the beachfront home? Aren't sea levels supposed to be rising?


Well hopefully the next generation is getting it and understands the legacy we have left them. In my home we practice a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle and we recycle and I'm saving up to purchase a Mercedes that runs on SVO. Want to call me a hypocrite? Oh, my retirement savings are invested in solar and wind energy companies also. I try to do what I can with what I have within my means. I've taught my children the same. The options living here in Ohio are much narrower say compared to other states.Not a put down but living in a mostly rural area it's difficult to use public transportation or ride a bike or sort and dispose of recyclables as easily as it is in California. Just stating facts - not putting Ohio down !


@ happyfeet64:

Happy for you in regards to your "green" lifestyle "choices."

So, should your vegan, recyling, investing, et al. "choices" be FORCED on everyone who thinks and chooses to believe and behave differently or do you support and advocate individual freedom and personal responsibility?

A "Mercedes" and NOT an "American" car? Tsk, tsk. :)


Don't care what lifestyle you choose to live or if you believe it or not-you wanna know why? It's because YOU make your own choices and I'll make MINE cuz you see I'm only responsible for myself and family. I'm going to be the ONLY one in my grave when I die and since I'm a Wiccan I don't have a concern of going to heaven or hell. In my religion we have a respect and natural concern for ALL things because ALL things are connected. We have one shot to try make things right-if we don't and all of the chicken littles are right and you are wrong- well it's gonna be too late, won't it? As for my Mercedes, I really don't care if it's not an American car- we've had the technology to build greener cars and have refused to do so. We bent over a long,long time ago and kissed our own arses goodbye. But, now everyone wants to blame China, Mexico and every other evil entity for all of our woes. We should have listened back in the 70's about all of this but NNNOOO..... My choices in life are just that-mine. I've made wrong choices in the past but this is a very different subject!

The Bizness

Happyfeet64 keep doing your part and helping mother earth. My generation is working hard to fix what the babyboomers are doing to it. It is disheartening to think that some people don't consider the effects a warming planet will have on our children. Water wars, food riots, massive storms, rising sea levels, species extinctions, and new disease.

Oh well I guess.


OMG grinders killing eagles and no fines from Obozo's administration. The arrogant one is even covering up eagle deaths let alone Benghazi!!!!!


Naw...why value the earth? Newtok, Alaska. (That's kinda a permfrost thing/rising ocean) On a local level people bought acreage in Celeryville, Ohio. Circa 1958. When they moved there the land on S.R.103 was level with the road. Isn't so nowadays. Opps...."modern farming," i.e Agri-BuSINess. Even the Good Book speaks of worldwide famine in the end times. Interesting. Anyone solved the Italian Honeybee problem yet?


I caught part of Boone Pickens interview on CNBC this morning and he said that there is an estimated 4,000 trillion of cu. ft. of nat. gas in the U.S. - probably 130 yrs. worth.

It's difficult for alt-energy to compete on a cost-effective basis with such massive numbers.


The Bizness writes:

"...some people don't consider the effects a warming planet will have on our children. Water wars, food riots, massive storms, rising sea levels, species extinctions, and new disease."

You forgot: The heartbreak of psoriasis.

I'll ask the same question of you:

So, should a heavy-handed authoritarian centrally planned alt-energy lifestyle be FORCED on everyone who thinks and chooses to believe and behave differently or do you support and advocate individual freedom and personal responsibility?

Reads like happyfeet64 agreed with the latter and eriemom didn't respond. Where do you stand?


I didn't respond because I had to fly out.

"So, should a heavy-handed authoritarian centrally planned alt-energy lifestyle be FORCED on everyone who thinks and chooses to believe and behave differently or do you support and advocate individual freedom and personal responsibility?"

Yes, because you do not have the right to destroy the planet just because you choose not to believe fact. I once thought that sane people would make intelligent choices. I was wrong.

Your individual freedom encroaches on mine and everyone else on the planet.

xdefiance's picture

the idea is that the air we breathe now is the same air that many people in the past have breathed, so the oxygen we breathe in is produced from trees, that "breathe in" the carbon dioxide we breathe out. It's an endless cycle