Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Unfazed by the Recession

More

>It looks like even the recession can't slow down climate change.

New data from Norway's Zeppelin station show that, despite a global slowdown in industrial activity, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has hit a new high: 393.71 parts per million during the first two weeks of March, a 0.54 ppm increase from a year ago.

Carbon dioxide concentrations have been rising for years, but experts had predicted that the recession would curtail greenhouse gas emissions in 2009. Though this year's increase in concentration is less than the annual average of about 2 ppm between 1995 and 2005 and could partly be due to yearly variation, it's still an increase. 

Debate rages over how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere will be able to hold before the planet undergoes catastrophic climate changes. Scientists and policy-makers pegged this threshold at 550 ppm in the 1980s and '90s, but by the time the House got around to drafting its cap-and-trade bill they were using 450 ppm. Recently, NASA scientist James Hansen and activist Bill McKibben have led the drive to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations at 350 ppm, which would involve reducing the current level by over 10 percent.     

Concentration measures also undergo variation unrelated to manmade emissions. In the Arctic region that houses the Zeppelin station, carbon dioxide concentrations usually peak in April, after rotting plants have released gases into the atmosphere all winter. As plants grow during the spring and summer and absorb carbon, concentrations tend to decline. But while these trends are cyclical, human-based emissions have steadily contributed to a carbon dioxide hike of well over 100 ppm since the Industrial Revolution. Read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report for a prediction of what will happen if this long-term trend continues.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In