NOAA's carbon dioxide measurements are taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii
NOAA’s carbon dioxide measurements are taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
Shutterstock / Galyna Andrushko

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose to just under 395 parts per million last year, according to new figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Compare that to the 350 ppm target that many climate scientists and activists say we need to get down to — activists like those at, yes, 350.org.

Global CO2 levels last year jumped by 2.67 parts per million, which might not sound like a dramatic leap, but it’s the second highest one-year increase since record-keeping began in 1959, surpassed only by the 1998 spike of 2.93 ppm.

From the Associated Press:

In 2009, the world’s nations agreed on a voluntary goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit [2 degrees Celsius] over pre-industrial temperature levels. Since the mid-1800s temperatures have already risen about 1.5 degrees. Current pollution trends translate to another 2.5 to 4.5 degrees of warming within the next several decades, [says John Reilly of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change].

“The prospects of keeping climate change below that [3.6 degree F goal] are fading away,” [NOAA’s Pieter] Tans says.

Why are greenhouse gas levels rising so quickly? From the same article:

More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up — even as they have declined in the U.S. and other places, in part through conservation and cleaner energy.

At the same time, plants and the world’s oceans, which normally absorb some carbon dioxide, last year took in less than they do on average, says [Reilly]. Plant and ocean absorption of carbon varies naturally year to year.

But, Tans tells The Associated Press the major factor is ever-rising fossil fuel burning: “It’s just a testament to human influence being dominant.”

Hurrah for dominance. Maybe now let’s use that dominance to do some actual good?