The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still increasing, even though people are driving and flying less during the COVID-19 epidemic. CO2 reached daily highs on 3 May, hitting levels seen in more than 60 years since records began.
According to an analysis published today by scientists at the National Weather Service for Britain and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the annual average is also expected to rise. They found that the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was still climbing rapidly, and that the dramatic change from the epidemic barely slowed.
Yesterday, the highest ever greenhouse gas concentration in history was observed at Mauna Loa Observatory: 418.12 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.
— UN Climate Change (@UNFCCC) May 4, 2020
The data shows how much more ambitious efforts are needed to prevent our planet from heating up. Just as a temporary drop in greenhouse gas emissions makes people to live during an epidemic that burning human fossil fuels is not enough to cause decades of damage.
“The waste of humanity is in the atmosphere and it does not go away,” says Scripps geographer Ralph Keeling. “CO2 is building in response to what we are emitting right now but what we have emitted over the last century.”
It may feel as if the world has come to a virtual stop amid orders to close businesses and shelters during the epidemic. The effects of planetary heat pollution on carbon emissions of the Great Recession of 2008 are already about six times greater. But the overall drop in global greenhouse gas emissions this year, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, is estimated to be around 8 percent, according to the International Energy Agency.
HUMANITY’S WASTE PILE IS IN THE ATMOSPHERE
“Eight percent is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things,” says meteorologist Sean Sublett of the nonprofit Climate Center. This difference will be slight in slowing climate change.
An important thing to keep in mind is that carbon dioxide can persist in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years after escaping from our factories and telecom pipes. “It’s like a bathtub and you had a full blast for a while, and you make it back 10%, but you’re still filling the bathtub,” says Subbult. “You haven’t really stopped filling the bathtub, you’ve slowed it down a bit.”
May is an important time to pay attention to carbon dioxide levels because it occurs when concentrations in the atmosphere are typically at peak. The level of the whole year fluctuates slightly depending on the season. In summer, plants in the Northern Hemisphere co2- where there is a greater mass of land – are in full gear carrying out carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. They are less active in the fall and winter, and when their leaves fall and rot, they release carbon dioxide. The cycle eventually leads to a spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide in May, as spring changes plants from leafless to shrub again, followed by a drop in summer.
Carbon dioxide concentrations have peaked each year
Since record-keeping began at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in 1958, carbon dioxide concentrations have been at peak levels every year. From the starting point of 318 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May 1958, reached a record high of 418.12 parts per million every month. The upward trend is called the Keeling Curve after scientist Charles David Keeling, who began making measurements.
To level that curve, emissions need to be reduced permanently by at least 50 percent, according to Ralph Keeling, a research that his father began. This would require a combination of behavioral change – as we are seeing now – and structural change widespread. “Expecting the change to be caused only by personal choices is huge,” he says.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions need to reach almost zero by 2050 to avoid the worst case scenario with climate change.