No, the headline is not a typo. Current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and are on track to climb to even more ominous heights in just a few decades.
If carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory, new findings show that by mid-century, the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years. Back then, temperatures were up to 18°F (10°C) warmer, ice was almost nowhere to be seen and oceans were dramatically higher than they are now.
This article was originally published at Climate Central
The implications of the research, published on Tuesday in Nature Communications, are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have varied for millennia, fluctuating largely on natural cycles. Humans have added dramatically more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, though, raising carbon dioxide from 280 parts per million to nearly 410 parts per million. That has turned the thermostat up about 1.8°F (1°C) and caused a host of other impacts.
Scientists have been able to track the historic changes in carbon dioxide through a number of methods, from air pockets in Antarctic ice cores to sludge on the deep sea floor. The new research compiles 1,500 of these carbon dioxide estimates to create a view that extends 420 million years.
The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.
“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”
He stressed that even if we reach those carbon dioxide levels by mid-century, crocodiles won’t suddenly appear in the Arctic. But because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, climate change will continue to reshape the planet even if humans magically cut emissions to zero after hitting that peak.
It’s possible that warming already in the pipeline has ensured parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet face unstoppable melt. That would raise sea levels up to 13 feet and threaten coastal communities around the world.
“If there is one thing the record of past climate events teaches us is that (current) unabated fossil fuel burning will have severe and long-lasting consequences,” Richard Zeebe, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Hawaii, said.
And that’s to say nothing of the climate change impacts the world is already seeing. Heat waves are becoming more common and intense, oceans are regularly flooding cities and wildfires are burning more intensely. The rising tide of impacts today will only swell further in the future unless carbon pollution is cut.
If humans ignore the warning in Royer’s study, however, they could put the planet into a state unheard of in nearly half a billion years. Stretching current carbon dioxide emissions trends into the more distant future means the planet could hit 2,000 ppm by 2250.
Coupling that with increases to the sun’s energy — a natural process that’s been happening for millions of years as hydrogen is converted into helium via fusion — would push the climate outside the bounds of anything the planet has likely seen in 420 million years. In all likelihood, that would make the planet uninhabitable for humans.
It’s an extreme scenario and one that world leaders are unlikely to let play out given what they already know about climate. But it serves an important purpose to remind them and the rest of the world what’s at stake.
Russia went looking for puppets in America — and they found Trump and the Republicans
The Russians wasted decades infiltrating the left attempting to gain purchase in American political life. There was the Communist Party USA, of course. Established in 1919, the CPUSA grew through the 1930s and boasted a membership of about 100,000 at the beginning of World War II. A hundred thousand! Whoop-de-doo!
This article first appeared in Salon
Then there were the spinoff lefty parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Workers World Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the Progressive Labor Party — we could go on listing one splinter group after another with “socialist” or “labor” or “workers” in its title. They were tiny groups with memberships that were sometimes less than 100, and they would all deny being infiltrated by the Russkies, naturally. So would the “New Left” groups that came later, like SDS and The Weathermen. Nobody wanted to admit they were under Russian influence. Everything they were doing, from opposing the war in Vietnam to civil rights to fighting for free speech, was being done for completely pure reasons.
GOP strategist walloped for urging Dem lawmakers to leave Trump alone and worry about being re-elected instead
On CNN Saturday, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist Doug Heye clashed after the latter suggested Democrats should value their re-election over holding President Donald Trump accountable for wrongdoing.
"We have to remember, this is not a trial as we think of trials in courtroom," said Heye. "This is a political process. It is designed to be a political process, and that's why this whole process is played out the way that it has so far. I would say to Maria, the Republicans aren't spending money to shore up Republicans per se. They're spending money to go after vulnerable Democrats who are going home and then coming back and telling Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership, I'm getting killed back home."
William Barr made it clear this week that he’d sign off on a sham investigation into the Dems’ 2020 nominee
Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
A perfect storm propelled New York's sleaziest real estate developer to an Electoral College victory in 2016 despite winning three million fewer votes than his opponent, but Nate Silver made a compelling argument that the letter James Comey sent to Congress just 11 days before Election Day announcing that the FBI was re-opening its probe into Hillary Clinton's emails was decisive.