396.78 ppm … and some “terrified” scientists

June 7, 2012

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Illustration from EarthSky.org

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 396.78 ppm. That’s the preliminary data released from NASA’s Mauna Loa Observatory. The level we and the all life on the planet are accustomed to is 350 ppm.  CO2Now.org keeps a running tally. As those numbers climb, scientists in a study published in the June issue of the journal Nature are warning that the loss of biodiversity, the climate’s fluctuations and other factors could lead to an irreversible collapse of the ecosystem.

One of the study’s 18 authors, Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University, says the “odds are very high that the next global state change will be extremely disruptive to our civilizations. Remember, we went from being hunter-gathers to being moon-walkers during one of the most stable and benign periods in all of Earth’s history.”

He also says, “Once a threshold-induced planetary state shift occurs, there’s no going back. So, if a system switches to a new state because you’ve added lots of energy, even if you take out the new energy, it won’t revert back to the old system. The planet doesn’t have any memory of the old state.”

“In a nutshell, humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst because the social structures for doing something just aren’t there,” Mooers says. “My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the earth’s history are more than pretty worried. In fact, some are terrified.” Press releases about the study are here and here.

The June Nature issue, called A Second Chance for the Planet, is devoted to the environment and looks at what has gone wrong since the 1992 Rio Summit and what can still be done at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that begins June 20.

The Nature issue includes a Rio report card.  Read an articles about the study in EarthSky and in Science Daily. The Washington Post also has an article about the UN Environment Program’s dire warnings about the planet. The article quotes UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner: “If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation.”

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