Heat-trapping carbon emissions in the atmosphere grew so much in 2012 that the year will go down as the second-highest growth in recorded history, placing the globe dangerously near a climatic tipping point, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.


Climate-causing emissions measured 48 times last year by a globally distributed network of atmospheric sensors showed that earth’s total atmospheric carbon content rose 2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012.

This means current atmospheric carbon is now at 395.09 ppm, far above the 350 ppm climate scientists like NASA’s James Hansen say is a safe limit. Any higher and earth’s weather systems begin to discharge the excess energy in the atmosphere through ever more powerful storms.

The last time the world saw such a large increase in emissions was 1998, which saw a rise of 2.93 ppm. Most scientists agree that restraining climate change to about 2 degrees of average global temperature rise would allow ecosystems to adapt, but increases of up to 4 or 5 degrees by the end of this century are expected if current trends are not averted.

NOAA's Pieter Tans, who runs the government's climate-tracking initiative, told The Associated Press that 2012's growth in emissions means "the prospects of keeping climate change below that (2-degree goal) are fading away."

The World Bank warns that such a level of warming would lead to widespread droughts, powerful hurricanes and mass extinctions -- all of which would cause serious problems for human agriculture and water supplies, potentially spawning wars over resources as more of the human population is pushed away from flooded coastal areas.

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