David Frum


400 Parts Per Million

The New York Times reports that carbon levels are at their highest in the last three million years:

Carbon dioxide above 400 parts per million was first seen in the Arctic last year, and had also spiked above that level in hourly readings at Mauna Loa. But the average reading for an entire day surpassed that level at Mauna Loa for the first time in the 24 hours that ended at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, according to data from both NOAA and Scripps. ... “It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist.

From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages, to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.