COVID-19 hasn't slowed global warming: Earth's carbon dioxide levels highest in over 3 million years, NOAA says
The COVID-19 pandemic did nothing to slow the root cause of global warming.
In fact, the carbon dioxide content in the earth's atmosphere is now higher than in at least 3.6 million years, federal scientists announced on Wednesday.
At that time, sea levels were up to 78 feet higher, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, Greenland was mostly green, and Antarctica had trees.
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Overall, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane levels - the two most important greenhouse gases - continued to rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Human activities are driving climate change," said Colm Sweeney of NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory in a statement released on Wednesday. "If we are to mitigate the worst of the effects, we must consciously focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions to near zero - and even then we must find ways to further remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere."
When fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are burned, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released, causing the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors, scientists say.
In the past 20 years, the world's temperature has risen about two-thirds degrees Fahrenheit, NOAA said.
Smoke rises from a large steel mill in Inner Mongolia, China on November 4, 2016. During the industrial age, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by about 40%, according to the US Global Change Research Program.
"We are absolutely certain that the rise in CO2 is warming the planet," Kate Marvel, a climate researcher at NASA, told the Capital Weather Gang this week. "I am even more certain that CO2 causes global warming than that smoking causes cancer. The world is already more than 2 degrees warmer than it was before the industrial revolution."
Carbon dioxide is known as a greenhouse gas because it can trap solar radiation and bind it to the atmosphere.
According to NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado, it's invisible, odorless, and colorless, yet responsible for 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases.
The global surface average for carbon dioxide was 412.5 ppm in 2020 and rose by 2.6 ppm over the course of the year. The global rate of increase was the fifth highest in NOAA's 63-year record.
According to NOAA, the pandemic-triggered economic recession cut CO2 emissions by around 7% in 2020. Without the economic slowdown, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory, the increase in 2020 would be the highest in its history.
NOAA's analysis also showed that the annual increase in atmospheric methane - a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming - was 14.7 parts per billion for 2020. This is the largest annual increase since measurements began in 1983.
"While increased fossil emissions may not be entirely responsible for recent growth in methane levels, reducing fossil methane emissions is an important step in mitigating climate change," said NOAA research chemist Ed Dlugokencky.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Global Warming: The Highest Level of Carbon Dioxide in Over 3 Million Years
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