Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide: Our race past 400ppm

One of the most informative graphs today — and one well worth studying– is the Keeling Curve. It is a presentation of carbon dioxide, as systematically measured at Mauna Loa, beginning in the late 1950’s. It shows how we have moved from 315 parts per million (ppm) CO2 to 400 ppm in less than 60 years.

When Charles Keeling began measuring CO2 near the top of Mauna Loa, a few surprising patterns quickly emerged. One was the fact that the CO2 levels would cycle up and down within the day (reflecting CO2 consumption by plants during the daylight hours), as well as the cycling within the year (reflecting seasonal variations such as the dormancy of many plants in the winter). Another pattern was that the curve’s peaks and lows were climbing each year; in fact, the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere has increased roughly 30% since the late 1950’s.

The source of the vast majority of this CO2 is humanity’s excessive (and still growing) consumption of fossil fuels. Some nations, particularly the most developed nations such as the United States, have much higher per capita consumptions. Some activities (such as aviation) involve exceptionally high rates of fossil fuel consumption.

Those who are concerned about the health of our environment find these patterns disturbing. On the other hand, those who reap profits from this fossil fuel consumption have an incentive to ignore and discredit these concerns. Oil companies are ‘fueling’ a lot of controversy and confusion by investing a fraction of their large profits into the ‘Big Oil’ propaganda campaigns. The media derives its profits from advertising, and thus tends to tailor its ‘news’ to keep the advertisers happy. Today’s elected officials have increasingly demonstrated that they are most attuned to money and do not want to bite the hand that feeds that money … thus they predictably waffle and delay and well, do nothing.

There is also the political problem that it is all too easy to pass the blame onto someone else. For example, in the last two decades, China surpassed the U.S. and became the world’s leading nation in total annual CO2 generation. *In the year 2010, China’s 1.34 billion people produced roughly 2.2 Teratons of Carbon, while 309 million U.S. citizens produced roughly 1.5 Teratons of Carbon. Thus, the comparative Carbon output was 4.8 metric tons per capita (U.S.) vs. 1.7 metric tons per capita (China).
A Teraton is 1,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms.
So, many pro-oil Americans point their finger at China, while ignoring the fact that, on a per capita basis, each U.S. citizen produces triple the CO2 of an average Chinese citizen.*

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The controversy continues, but the facts are beyond dispute. Looking at both graphs above, there is a high level of certainty that we will peak at around 403 ppm this Spring, above 405 ppm in 2015, and most likely above 440 ppm by 2034. And, another very important fact is this: the more we do nothing, the deeper our predicament becomes, and the harder it will be for our grandchildren to fix this problem. Here are the hard numbers, easy to see.

The table below presents the monthly CO2 levels as measured at Mauna Loa, from 1958 onward. The data has been formatted so as to emphasize the patterns. The peaks normally occur in May (sometimes in April or June) and are marked in larger red text. The troughs always occur in September or October, and are marked in larger blue text. The ‘Rise’ column presents the total increase in atmospheric CO2 during the winter half of the year, when photosynthesis and other natural processes lag behind human-caused CO2 generation. The ‘Fall’ column indicates the total decrease in atmospheric CO2 between May and October, when plant photosynthesis in the Northern Hemisphere consumes excess CO2 more quickly than humans generate it.

APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
2014
401.33
401.88
401.30
395.41
395.65
8.57
6.47
2013
398.35
399.76
398.58
393.51
393.66
8.75
6.25
2012
396.18
396.78
395.83
391.06
391.01
7.82
5.77
2011
393.34
394.21
393.72
389.04
388.96
7.38
5.25
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
2010
392.52
393.04
392.15
386.83
387.20
8.65
6.21
2009
389.44
390.19
389.45
384.79
384.39
7.20
5.80
2008
387.16
388.50
387.88
383.09
382.99
7.60
5.51
2007
386.40
386.58
386.05
380.90
381.14
7.66
5.68
2006
384.73
384.98
384.09
378.92
379.16
8.32
6.06
2005
382.20
382.47
382.20
376.66
376.98
8.36
5.81
2004
380.41
380.63
379.56
374.11
374.44
7.53
6.52
2003
377.74
378.50
378.18
373.20
373.10
7.99
5.40
2002
375.00
375.65
375.50
370.66
370.51
7.49
5.14
2001
373.37
373.82
373.18
368.16
368.42
6.91
5.66
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
2000
371.82
371.51
371.71
366.91
366.99
6.88
4.91
1999
370.96
370.77
370.33
364.94
365.35
6.95
6.02
1998
368.61
369.49
368.95
364.01
364.35
9.18
5.48
1997
366.25
366.69
365.59
360.31
360.71
7.15
5.98
1996
364.51
365.16
364.93
359.60
359.54
7.19
5.62
1995
363.23
363.77
363.22
358.11
357.97
8.14
5.80
1994
361.32
361.68
360.80
355.63
356.09
7.58
6.05
1993
359.27
360.19
359.52
354.10
354.12
7.26
6.09
1992
359.00
359.55
359.32
352.93
353.31
7.25
6.62
1991
358.51
359.09
358.10
352.30
352.32
7.81
6.79
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
1990
356.27
357.29
356.32
351.28
351.59
7.27
6.01
1989
355.59
355.89
355.30
350.02
350.29
6.86
5.87
1988
353.66
354.18
353.68
349.03
349.08
7.66
5.15
1987
351.32
352.14
351.61
346.52
346.65
7.67
5.62
1986
349.77
350.53
349.90
345.01
344.47
7.45
6.06
1985
348.20
348.92
348.40
343.20
343.08
7.57
5.84
1984
346.77
347.55
346.98
341.35
341.68
7.38
6.20
1983
345.25
345.96
345.52
340.17
340.30
7.64
5.79
1982
343.92
344.67
343.78
338.32
338.39
7.75
6.35
1981
342.56
343.01
342.49
336.92
337.12
6.96
6.09
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
1980
340.86
341.47
341.26
336.10
336.05
7.54
5.42
1979
338.94
339.00
339.20
333.93
334.12
6.87
5.27
1978
337.77
338.00
337.98
332.33
332.41
6.81
5.67
1977
336.03
336.82
336.10
331.19
331.21
8.05
5.63
1976
334.78
334.78
334.06
328.96
328.77
6.42
6.01
1975
333.29
333.91
333.40
328.57
328.36
6.70
5.55
1974
332.65
333.19
332.12
327.41
327.21
6.01
5.98
1973
331.50
332.48
332.07
327.51
327.18
7.55
5.30
1972
329.72
330.07
329.09
324.93
325.06
6.71
5.14
1971
327.78
328.92
328.57
323.36
323.57
5.82
5.56
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
1970
328.13
328.07
327.66
323.10
323.16
6.35
5.03
1969
326.66
327.34
326.76
322.38
321.78
7.09
5.56
1968
325.02
325.57
325.36
320.41
320.25
6.26
5.32
1967
324.42
325.00
324.09
319.31
319.31
6.90
5.69
1966
323.87
324.01
323.75
318.64
318.10
6.71
5.91
1965
322.13
322.16
321.87
317.81
317.30
5.46
4.86
1964
321.77
322.25
321.89
316.70
316.79
6.26
5.55
1963
321.39
322.25
321.47
316.21
315.99
6.83
6.26
1962
320.63
321.01
320.55
316.26
315.42
6.21
5.59
1961
319.48
320.58
319.77
314.80
315.38
6.75
5.78
APR
MAY
JUN
SEP
OCT
Rise
Fall
1960
319.02
320.03
319.59
314.16
313.83
6.77
6.20
1959
317.72
318.29
318.15
313.84
313.26
5.63
5.03
1958
317.45
317.50
317.10
313.20
312.66
4.84
Scripps Institution of Oceanography has led the necessary research to track CO2 in our atmosphere. Federal funding is being depleted.
If you want to learn more or wish to help support continued CO2 monitoring by Scripps at Mauna Loa, please click this link.

Table UPDATED 11/30/2014