CO2 above 400 … Permanently?

September 29, 2016 glenn Uncategorized

At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million. That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

Never too return? Not if we can help it!

It was Spring, 2013. The news broke shortly thereafter. “The daily average for May 9 was 400.03 ppm.” (That’s parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.) Now, 400+ is deemed to be permanent. What has happened in the last three and a half years that we now consider this a permanent thing?

The reason it is considered permanent now, and it wasn’t back then has to do with the work that nature does. Plants photosynthesize CO2 into sugars, releasing oxygen. When they die, much of the vegetation is oxidized, returning CO2 to the atmosphere. The Northern Hemisphere, having more land mass than the Southern Hemisphere, draws down more CO2, and also respires more. This results in an annual cycle of rising and falling CO2 levels. This chart, from the NOAA Mauna Looa Research Station, shows this, plus the steady increase in the CO2 average.


The 2013 exceedance was quickly reversed, and the cycle dropped the CO2 level below 400 in succeeding years, … until this one. Actually, there were numerous recent readings below 400, but averages have stayed above the threshold. See No doubt the level will rise this fall, cycle annually, and the average will continue to rise until the good citizens of the earth reduce the destruction of biomass, soil, and oceans, and do the work to provide nature with more ability to increase the amount of photosynthesis and humification — essentially carbon storage in soil.

That’s not the way most people see it. The article, “The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently,” claims that CO2 will “return below [400] in our lifetimes, according to scientists.” They underestimate the current and future efforts of informed citizens and the incredible power of nature to produce more life on our planet.

The statement “Since the industrial revolution, humans have been altering this process by adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than plants can take up”, admits that plants (and actually soils and oceans) “take up” CO2, and the article’s perspective is that reducing emissions is the only tool in the climate toolbox. That is a narrow view. There are multiple million-plus acre projects, such as desert and prairie restoration and reforestation, and other efforts that, if scaled up, could reduce atmospheric CO2 levels.


There is some sense to the notion that “measurements on top of Mauna Loa take on added importance. They’re a reminder that with each passing day, we’re moving further from the climate humans have known and thrived in and closer to a more unstable future.” That is true only if we fail to rapidly re-green our planet. The understanding is there. Farmers and foresters are doing it, but we need more, and soon.

We cannot fail to reverse the CO2 trend! Permanent or not? Not!

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