The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years.
By Dr. John J. Hidore
September 25, 2015—Planet Earth is now in a period of rapid change. A fundamental driving force in many cases is the growth of the human population. From the time of its origin until now the population has been growing faster and faster. It took modern humans some 200,000 years to reach a total of one billion individuals. We have added another billion in less than 15 years since the start of the century. The global population now stands at over 7, 368,000,000. Many of the global changes taking place at this time are a result of human activity. Examples from recent years of the 21st century serve to indicate just how fast it is changing.
There has been an overall increase in global temperatures at least since 1900. Global temperatures for the years 1880 to 1980 were below the mean for the 20th Century. Since 1980 global annual temperatures have been above the mean of the 20th Century. The 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997. The three warmest years since 1880 were 2005, 2010, and 2014, all in this century. 2014 was the warmest year on the earth since records have been kept (136 years). The first seven months of 2015 are the warmest for the period since records have been kept.
Warming of the Arctic
Parts of the arctic region are now the warmest they have been in 44,000 years. The warming is taking place around the North Pole including the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land masses. Most of the ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic broke away from land during the past 14 years. Every summer for the last ten years the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. On Sept 17, 2014 the area of sea ice in the Arctic reached its lowest in recorded history. The extent of the ice was 1.9 million square miles (1.94 million square kilometers). In mid-September of 2015, the extent of the ice was a little greater than in 2014 but still among the least.
Freshwater melting from Arctic ice sheets is slowing the Gulf Stream. Further slowing of the Gulf Stream could cause a three foot rise in sea level on the east cost of the United States. This is in addition to the rise in sea level due to climate change.
Since the start of the industrial revolution, the burning of organic fuels has released more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years. Global CO2 reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in history. The level has increased 85 ppm in the 55 years, since measurements were first made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This represents a 25% increase since 1958. This rate has been increasing more rapidly in the past few decades. This rate of change parallels the growth of the human population and the probability is that it will continue increasing even faster. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for as long as 1000 years!
On March 24, 2015 at Hope Bay, Antarctica, the temperature reached 17.5 OC (63.5o F), the highest ever recorded on the Antarctic continent. This temperature was recorded at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula at Argentina’s Esperanza Base, and nearly as high a temperature was recorded the day before.
Rising Temperatures in India
This year a May heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Heat waves are fairly frequent in India but this was the greatest loss of life from a heat wave in over 30 years, with extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread as a result of high demand for air conditioning. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 118.4oF (48o C). Other high temperatures recorded were:
Allahabad 118 F (47.8 C)
Delhi 113 F (45.5 C)
Hyderabad 115 F (46.0 C)
Jharsuguda 113.7 F (45.4 C)
The Pakistan Heat Wave
In June the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000, and was followed by several weeks the severe heat wave that struck India. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services were not in condition to cope with the heat.
In the U.S. President Obama has advocated for action on slowing climate change and visited Alaska where global warming is changing the lives of the native people.
Pope Francis’s Warning
On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si,” a plea for the environment, which is a remarkable change from recent heads of the Catholic Church. He stated, “The current climate change is the result of human activity and, to reduce climate change and pollution, we must convert from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources.” His message: We all must work together for change!