May 22nd, 2018

Carbon Dioxide Recorded at Its Highest Atmospheric Level in 800,000 Years 

In April, the average monthly level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm) — the highest level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere for the 800,000 years for which we have records. (The global concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history in 2013.)

Before the industrial era, CO2 levels fluctuated between 170 and 280 ppm.

The data were recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the oldest continuous carbon dioxide measurement station in the world, and the primary global benchmark site for monitoring the increase of CO2 since 1958.


Scientists believe that, if left unchecked, increased levels of CO2 — a heat-trapping gas — could lead to tens of thousands of deaths as rising temperatures exacerbate air pollution and thereby increase the rate of illnesses such as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Rising CO2 levels would also lead to higher rates of allergies and asthma, more extreme weather events, and the spread of diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes, as is already occurring.

Higher CO2 levels have also been shown to slow human cognition and contribute to rising sea levels, searing heat waves, and superstorms projected as effects of climate change.

In our 800,000-year record it took about 1,000 years for CO2 levels to increase by 35 ppm, but we’re now averaging an increase of more than 2 ppm a year. Some experts think we’re on track to hit 550 ppm by the end of the century, which would cause average global temperatures to rise by as much as 6 degrees Celsius. (For context, the increase in superstorms, rising sea levels, and spreading of tick-borne diseases that we’re already experiencing comes after a 0.9-degree rise.)

We have rapidly transformed the air we breathe since the beginning of the industrial era more than 200 years ago. At the same time, the human population has ballooned from 1 billion people in 1804 to 7.6 billion in 2018 (World Population Prospects, 2017, p.1). Ever more consumers and relentless industrial growth have pushed CO2 levels into uncharted territory in a very short amount of time, and adding another 83 million people to the planet annually while relying primarily on fossil fuels for our energy source means CO2 levels will very likely only continue to rise.

In order to lower CO2 emissions, human population growth must be stopped and then reversed. PIC encourages the government of Canada to play a leading role in achieving a sustainable global population by stabilizing its own population and making international family planning a significant and integral part of its developmental assistance.