Scientists have been warning for over a decade that we're fast reaching the point where a permanently-heated world is inevitable. If we hope to keep the world from experiencing a potentially catastrophic 2 degree rise in temperatures, they say, we'd have to act now. Or now. Now, now. But we haven't, and so we are, in so few words, officially screwed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released the latest official count of the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, and it's ugly:
The increase in CO2 levels between 2011 and 2012 was the second-biggest ever. CO2 jumped 2.67 parts per million in that one year alone, bringing the total to 395 ppm.
James Hansen, the nation's preeminent climatologist, has long said that "safe" levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. Those days are long gone. That we humanfolk added enough CO2 to bump the concentration in our skies nearly 3 parts per million—remember, we're talking the chemical composition of our life-sustaining atmosphere here—is mind-blowing. The only other time we managed to dump that much CO2 over the course of a year was in 1998.
The AP describes NOAA's findings thusly: "The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped dramatically in 2012, making it very unlikely that global warming can be limited to another 2 degrees as many global leaders have hoped, new federal figures show."
Which is about right. Just look at NOAA's graph of the global CO2 concentration, and it goes up and up and up:
This graph shows just the last three years of climbing concentrations, too, just after the temporary recessionary emissions stall-out of 2009. And, as is to be expected, temperatures have been climbing along with the CO2 concentrations. 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the United States and Australia, and it was one of the 10 hottest recorded ever. 2010 tied for the hottest on record. But not for long. What you see above is the plotted path of a runaway train.
"The prospects of keeping climate change below that (2-degree goal) are fading away," NOAA's chief greenhouse gas specialist Pieter Tans told the AP.
Remembering that there's a major lag between a bump in CO2 concentration and global temps, we already know we're in store for some serious future warming. And since the industrial nations of the world aren't doing anything to slow their emissions output, the trajectory will continue, skyward, for the foreseeable future. Barring some unprecedented and drastic and internationally concerted action, the planet of the near future is going to be a hotter one. It's official.