We already told you that carbon dioxide could pass a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm) sometime this May — an atmospheric concentration not seen in human history, and generally a sign that we’re passing into the climatological period known as “the gnashing of teeth.” The New York Times now reports that we’ve Usain Bolted past that milestone:
Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.
The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.
The front-page story then trots out a sad-face-mask Greek chorus of credible climate scientists whose responses justifiably run the parental gamut between “I’m not mad at you — just disappointed” and “get out of my house.”
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.
Translation: “Get into college? Not with those grades.”
Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.
“How can you live like this? I didn’t know your room could even get that dirty.”
“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist.
“I don’t know why your father and I even try anymore.”
“It takes a long time to melt ice, but we’re doing it,” Dr. Keeling said. “It’s scary.”
“You do great when you apply yourself to something — like those damn videogames.”
“If you start turning the Titanic long before you hit the iceberg, you can go clear without even spilling a drink of a passenger on deck,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at the Pennsylvania State University. “If you wait until you’re really close, spilling a lot of drinks is the best you can hope for.”
“I told you to take the dog out, but it’s too late. Now you have to clean up the carpet.”
“If you’re looking to stave off climate perturbations that I don’t believe our culture is ready to adapt to, then significant reductions in CO2 emissions have to occur right away,” said Mark Pagani, a Yale geochemist who studies climates of the past. “I feel like the time to do something was yesterday.”
“This is the last time I’m going to tell you. I’m going to Moe’s.”
The worst part is there are more do-not-pass-go milestones to come: Hourly readings above 400 ppm started last month, daily averages are reaching 400 ppm now, and it’s likely a monthly average above 400 ppm will arrive in the near future. Unless we can stop blasting through carbon thresholds, Science is poised to be very disappointed in us for the foreseeable future. Go to your room.