CO2 levels pass feared milestone

Scientists report that the amount of the gas has not been this high in at least 3 million years

By Natasha Lennard

Published May 10, 2013 6:51PM (EDT)

  (Shutterstock/ vladimir salman)
(Shutterstock/ vladimir salman)

In what climate scientists are calling a moment that "symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” carbon dioxide levels have reportedly reached a long-feared milestone. The New York Times reported that this concentration of the gas on Earth has not been seen for millions of years. Via the NYT:

Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least 3 million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Carbon Dioxide Emissions Climate Change Environment Global Warming