The Effects of Increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide

Kevin Loria’s article on the rise in Carbon Dioxide levels mentions that, for the first time in more than 800,000 years, the monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have topped 410 ppm. Providing a strong reason to believe this will have adverse effects on human health. This rise in CO2 levels will increase levels of pollution and the diseased related to it, as well as extreme weather patterns. These patterns would include heat waves, hurricanes, and spread the ranges of disease-carrying insects. Loria mentions that although the rise in Carbon Dioxide levels won’t have direct effects on our ability to breathe, but will “dramatically increase pollution and related diseases, potentially slow human cognition, cause extreme weather events (including deadly heat waves), and broaden the range of disease-carrying creatures like mosquitos and ticks.”

A study published in 2017 in the journal Nature Climate Change found that “30% of the world is already exposed to heat intense enough to kill twenty or more people each day.” This rise in atmospheric temperature may cause many more people to die every year and if temperatures continue to increase the numbers will multiply. This rise in temperature will also lead to a more intense hurricane season with rising water levels and warmer ocean temperatures. Along with extreme heatwaves, CO2 will destroy the ozone, which can lead to death through respiratory illness, asthma, and emphysema. Along with increasing rates of lung cancer, allergies, and cardiovascular disease. Insects along with their deadly diseases will spread to the warmer regions, who would typically die out during colder seasons would stay longer, and their habitats would expand further.

The effects of this rise in CO2 are already showing up, and without an answer, we will begin to see more and more severe consequences for our actions. The answers are more than just cutting back on CO2; this becomes a worldwide problem and not just a domestic issue.

Irreversible Climate Change

In her article, “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions,” Susan Solomon and her colleagues express how the human race has such a large impact on the world’s climate change. The paper focuses on how the effects of increases in carbon dioxide on the atmosphere take around a thousand years to be repaired. Human activities were identified as the most prominent cause of the rise in “atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gases.” These increases in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, will result in a wider range of damaging and possibly irreversible climate changes.

Solomon highlights how complicated the multi-step process of carbon dioxide atmospheric extraction can be. The process includes “rapid exchange with the land biosphere and the surface layer of the ocean through air-sea exchange.” Typically, 20% of the added tonnes of carbon dioxide stay in the atmosphere while 80% becomes mixed in with the ocean. Ocean warming is just one quantifiable aspect of climate change. Unlike methane or nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide is the only greenhouse gas whose gases persist over time rather than periodic instances. The graphs below display the amount of carbon dioxide that is “expected to be retained in the atmosphere by the end of the millennium.”

These three graphs display carbon dioxide and global mean climate system changes. Results are represented with an 11-yr running mean.

Overall, the main point of Solomon’s article was to highlight how irreversible these small but detrimental gas emissions can be to our climate. Changes in sea levels, changes in precipitation, and changes in atmospheric warming can all be traced back to the increase in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Not only are these changes dangerous to the environment, but also play a vital role in the timeline of mankind.

CO2 Levels are Rising

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occuring greenhouse gas that is a part of our atmosphere. The reliance on factories and various forms of transportation to burn fossil fuels have increased the amount of CO2 found in our atmosphere today. While, carbon dioxide only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere this number has increased significantly overtime. Today CO2 levels consist of over 380 parts per million (ppm) but, prior to the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide consisted of 270 ppm. Specifically, throughout this decade, CO2 levels have increased on average, 2.3ppm per year. Also, we emit 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. In metric units this is 362.874 Tonnes. Again, this number simply shows that while CO2 makes up less than 1% of our atmosphere, the unnatural increase of CO2 has shown negative effects.

It is important that we find a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it has serious effects on the environment such as making our oceans more acidic and increasing the temperature on earth.  A New York Times article discusses the fact that removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere is a potential way to stop global warming. The goal would be to keep the carbon dioxide below the two degree Celsius target estimated in 2015 by the Paris Agreement. However, this is an extremely difficult task. One suggestion would be to follow a process known as “direct air capture” to minimize its presence. All of the studies show that it is extremely hard to decrease the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere but it is crucial that we take conscious steps to reduce it for the future sake of our environment.

Finding a solution for high CO2 levels

A current environmental issue that is facing us today is how to control the rising levels of CO2 in the environment. CO2 levels have been increasing at a record rate, with the levels raising to 400.83ppm in 2015. This was an increase of 3.03ppm from the previous year, making it the first year that CO2 raised by more than 3ppm. Now, as of yesterday, the current CO2 levels are 405.19ppm. There is clearly a need to be concerned about the future of CO2 levels and a need to determine ways to slow their rising levels and begin to decrease the levels over time.

One idea that has been considered by scientists comes from the knowledge that trees consume CO2 in order to grow and, in turn, remove some CO2 from the environment. Additionally, they emit much-needed oxygen into the environment. In order to test the theory that trees may suck up CO2 and make strides in cleaning the atmosphere, scientists created a model environment that aimed to replicate the high CO2 levels that are inevitable in our future. They sprayed 2 tons of pure carbon dioxide into the canopies of trees in a 500 square meter plot every day for 6 months. This created an atmosphere with about 530 ppm of CO2, which is about 150% of what exists today.

Unfortunately, their experiment did not yield the results they had hoped for. The CO2 did not enhance the growth of the trees and leaves, rather the CO2 quickly passed through the bodies of the trees and quickly returned to the atmosphere. There was no decline in CO2 in the atmosphere and the extra CO2 did nothing to help with the photosynthesis of the trees or their oxygen emissions. Unfortunately, this demonstrates a need for more research to be done as to how to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

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