400ppm. It seems like a small number, but the significance is large.
On Thursday, May 10th, four hundred parts per million (400ppm) was registered for the first time, as the average daily CO2 at the Mauna Loa observatory, in the clean air high atop Hawaii. This location has been used by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography since 1958.
The one scientist most credited with this research is Charles David Keeling. Dr. Keeling was born in 1928. He earned a PhD in chemistry at Northwestern University, in 1954. He then worked as a graduate fellow at Caltech in Pasadena, before moving to Scripps in 1956. It was during his brief tenure at Caltech that Dr. Keeling developed instrumentation to measure the CO2 content of air samples. Most importantly, he also established measurement and calibration protocols, and revealed that CO2 levels were precisely measurable, with surprisingly predictable day-night variations.
Prior to his first measurements, a review of the scientific literature suggested he would find CO2 levels varying by latitude. If he were to trust what other scientists were saying at the time, Dr. Keeling would have expected readings to vary from 150ppm in the arctic to 350ppm in the tropics. It was also believed that local geochemistry (e.g., the presence * for his first measurements, to sample clean air off the ocean, and also to investigate the influence of local carbonate rocks.of carbonate rocks such as limestone) would influence the CO2 concentration in local air and water. He chose Big Sur
He was surprised by what he found. Essentially, his early measurements showed that plants remove CO2 during the daytime, but the CO2 level rises each night when the plants (and soil) release CO2 back into the atmosphere. Dr. Keeling also found a surprising constancy suggesting CO2 quickly distributes within the atmosphere.
Later measurements debunked the idea that CO2 levels varied by latitude, from 150ppm to 350ppm; this was shown to be just a wild idea, not supported by any real data.
When he started his measurements, Dr. Keeling found the CO2 concentration was 310ppm. It took only a few years to recognize that this level was on a steady rise. We passed 350ppm in 1988 and now, in May 2013, we are passing 400ppm.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There was a time not too far in the past where we thought nothing about dumping all of our waste into the oceans. It was believed then that all problems would be absorbed into the immensity of the ocean, and disappear. It was only sixty years ago that our best scientists believed CO2 would quickly ‘disappear’ into the ocean. They were wrong.
Industrial scale human consumption of coal began in the 1800’s. Massive consumption of oil and gas evolved around 1900, and accelerated immensely around World War II. Every fossil fuel molecule being removed from the Earth becomes water and CO2 and various other compounds, most of which end up in the air we breathe. Today, we have fallen so far from sanity, that we are watching entire mountains get leveled to extract more coal to export to other corners of the world. We have ‘professionals’ getting rich helping to obstruct the democratic process, so as to extend the opportunity for some fossil fuel robber-barons to continue to destroy our land, our air, and our water. Our political leaders are failing their responsibility to protect the people and the environment; in fact, these leaders are openly enabling fracking and pipelines and stripmines that are damaging human health. It is nothing short of insane.
In fact, the amount of CO2 we are loading into the atmosphere is so massive it is poisoning both our air and our water. Some is slowly being absorbed into the oceans, which are becoming alarmingly acidic, and destroying corals and other carbonate lifeforms. We have solid scientific records that show, during the entire time of man’s existence, atmospheric CO2 has oscillated in a 95,000 year cycle, between 200ppm and 280ppm. This was the range until the last hundred years. With our still-growing addiction to fossil fuel hyperconsumption, we went 25% beyond the upper limit (280ppm) in 1988. And now, just 25-years later, we have stretched that record another 14%. No rational person can deny the extraordinary impact this rate of atmospheric change can and will have upon all lifeforms, from the most fragile to the most robust, including homo sapiens.
And how does this Connect to Aviation?
Fuel used in aviation is a luxury, one of our most discretionary consumptions. We will continue to travel, and over very long distances, aviation will remain a sensible choice: it has a comparable fuel efficiency to automobiles, but flying is much faster. However, our future population cannot afford the damages caused by the excessive flying of our present population. If we are to truly address the CO2 issue, we have to severely reduce this excess consumption. People should consume far fewer miles each year, since miles roughly equate with CO2 pollution. FAA’s decades of boosterism, supporting the overdevelopment of U.S. airports, will end, and the money formerly directed to promote aviation will be more appropriately directed to support other industries, other projects, and a healthier and more sustainable economy.
400ppm. It is a very big change, and very fast.
And it will severely impact our children. We need real leaders, not captured agents supporting their cronies at BigOil.
We need to fix this problem … NOW
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