Dissolving Threshold

We finally did it, we are through the atmospheric door.

After years of dire prognostications that we were reaching an historic tipping point, El Niño nudged us through the gate and we achieved what most scientists and environmentalists have been warning against: In 2015, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were at 400 parts per million (ppm) on average across the year as a whole. This according to the annual greenhouse gas bulletin of the the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO).

Artist: Cornelia Konrads

Artist: Cornelia Konrads

The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it gets. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 levels averaged at 278 ppm. The planet was a cooler place.

Furthermore, it’s not considered likely that the carbon dioxide level will dip below the new level for many (human) generations.

There are likely those who will point to the lack of immediate disaster as a sign that the crossing of this threshold isn’t a big deal, or that carbon dioxide levels aren’t the only factor in determining global climate. And those are good points. But considering the general trend in rising temperature, now is the time to take the matter seriously. In human terms, if someone is seriously ill, you don’t wait for the fever to spike dangerously before taking action on the off chance the problem will just go away.

WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas is quoted in The Guardian as saying that “the year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations. The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not.”

What is our next threshold for action?

Grounds for Discussion

From: Information is Beautiful

From: Information is Beautiful

What I like about the work done over at Information is Beautiful is the effort they make to provide readers with two things. First, cool graphics which help readers better understand the topic at hand. In the case of the image here (this is only a small part of the much larger illustration), the topic is carbon dioxide, how many gigatons of the stuff are involved in various global cycles, and a number of relevant variables. The contribution a diagram like this makes is that the reader doesn’t necessarily have to know what a gigaton is, or have a working knowledge of global interactions to understand what the image is describing.

The beautiful part is that the graph allows almost any interested reader to understand, if not all the science and data and research, then at least the relationships. And that comprises the diagram’s second contribution: Informing readers so that they can inform others of these relationships.

This work makes complex information accessible, and the graphic is available as a downloadable .pdf for printing.