Climate change: Hawaii study confirms our worst fears

2013-05-19 05:00

For years, scientists have kept a close eye on a small monitoring station in Hawaii and this week, what they saw there confirmed their worst fears.

Climate change, they say, is not slowing down.

Since 1958, the Hawaiian station has tracked how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere. This month, the tally reached the all-important – if baffling for lay persons – 400 parts per million.

Simply put? The daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest point ever in human history.

Climate-change scientists and environmental activists say that means Earth has entered uncharted territory and its inhabitants are in for a rough ride.

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen and the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change have repeatedly warned that exceeding 350 parts per million would bring to life the most dire predictions about climate change.

So what can we do now? Hansen believes every country in the world has to completely stop burning coal by 2030 to drop levels to 350 parts per million and lower.

Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and founder of the activist group 350.org, told American news organisation Mother Jones this week the news was a “grim but predictable milestone”.

Greenpeace’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said the new figure was a “tipping point for all of us”.

Naidoo said climate change was no longer just a theory or something this generation’s children would have to deal with. “The weather is changing,” he said.

Geochemist Ralph Keeling, whose father created the Keeling Curve – the longest-running tally of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – said the figure was only going to spike.

“I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400 parts-per-million level without losing a beat,” Keeling told British reporters this week. “At this pace, we’ll hit 450 parts per million within a few decades.”

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