The planet’s atmosphere held more carbon dioxide at its annual May peak than at any time in the last 4 million years, and 50% more than prior to the Industrial Revolution, NOAA reported Monday. Scientists said the rate of CO2 increase, fueled primarily by the combustion of fossil fuels, showed “no discernible impact” of any pandemic-induced slowdown. Atmospheric CO2 levels peak cyclically every May before vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere wakes up from winter and pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, but overall CO2 levels keep rising because humans keep pumping 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere every year.
“The emissions of CO2 continue to be incredibly high,” Corinne Le Quéré, research professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia in Britain, told the Washington Post. “The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will stop rising when the emissions approach zero.”
“Reaching 50% higher carbon dioxide than preindustrial [levels] is really setting a new benchmark and not in a good way,” Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, who wasn’t part of the research, told the AP. “If we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to work much harder to cut carbon dioxide emissions and right away.” (AP, Washington Post $, Axios, The Hill, E&E $, Bloomberg $, New York Times $, The Verge, Newsweek, Reuters, USA Today)