Cutting Carbon Dioxide Isn’t Enough

We have to invest in technology to remove the CO2 already in the atmosphere.
ishmatt/Flickr

ishmatt/Flickr

According to data being gathered at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has been monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1958, the CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere officially exceeded the 400 parts per million mark last week, a value not attained on Earth since humans were first human.

This ominous milestone comes at a time when the evidence that human activity is resulting in unprecedented climate change is now overwhelming. More important, perhaps, even if all greenhouse gas production ceased immediately, this elevated carbon dioxide level would persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Indeed, even moving relatively quickly toward a carbon-neutral economy will still result in a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere for the foreseeable future. But that is moot, because we are nowhere close to moving quickly in this regard anyway. Fossil fuel reserves have effectively increased, due to improved technologies for extraction, and investment in alternative energy sources has been limited due to artificially low prices on carbon-based energy. As a result, 2012 was likely another record year for human-induced CO2 production.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.