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For the first time in human history, global CO2 levels have exceeded the safe zone — permanently.

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League of Conservation Voters

The big UN Climate Conference started on Nov. 30, and the timing couldn't be better — because as of Nov. 11, CO2 levels in our air have officially exceeded the safe zone.

According to measurements from the Scripps Mauna Lua Observatory in Hawaii, the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has risen above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years.

And sadly, it will never drop down again as long as any of us are living.


Oh boy, gee golly. I can't wait until the world looks like Beijing! Photo by Steven Zhang/Flickr.

For reference, CO2 levels clocked in around 275 ppm before the Industrial Revolution and scientists have been urging us for years to get things down to 350 ppm in order to stop temperatures from rising even more and damaging the planet.

Of course, some people still argue that this is just the natural cycle of things. Which, well...

Image via Leland_McInnes/Wikimedia Commons.

So I mean, sure, there is a natural cycle to carbon levels. Note the word "natural" — digging up and burning fossil fuels is not natural, especially at the rate we've been doing it.

We've spent the last few decades pumping an additional two ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. And that's above and beyond the constraints of that natural cycle.

Also worth noting: The last time CO2 levels were consistently over 400 ppm? Global temperatures were about three degrees higher; the polar ice caps melted, causing sea levels to rise about 30 feet from where they are right now; and camels lived in the Arctic region.

Camels.

In the Arctic.

And speaking of cycles...

The Earth actually passed that 400 ppm milestone back in May, before dipping back down to 398.2 ppm in July. Why the dip? That's just due to the seasonal increase of plant life in the Northern Hemisphere.

As you might recall from middle school science class, plants love CO2. That's why we get along with them so well; it's a mutually beneficial relationship.


Image via Mikael Haggstrom/Wikimedia Commons.

But now, winter is coming and the plants are dead and CO2 levels are back up to 400 ppm. ¯\\_(ツ)_/¯

Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and we're still increasing CO2 levels by two ppm every year — well, it's safe to say we won't see another atmosphere in that safe zone below 400 ppm as long as any of us are alive.

Now if only we had more trees to eat up all that extra CO2...

Unfortunately, we're a little preoccupied with cutting our trees down. Industrial deforestation accounts for 23% of man-made carbon emissions, or 17% of our total carbon increase over the last 100 years.

Photo by Kaibab National Forest/Flickr.

There's also the fact that the influx of wildfires across the planet is directly related to the increase in global temperatures.

Photo by Cameron Strandberg/Flickr.

To recap: We're burning fossil fuels to cut down trees that would otherwise eat the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn causes global temperatures to rise, which leads to the forests combusting, which results in fewer trees to eat the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which...

This GIF is a metaphor. We're Melissa McCarthy, and the Earth is Kristen Wiig. GIF from "Bridesmaids."

While our air quality won't get any better within our own lifetimes, we can still make it better for the next generation.

If you care about your children, and your children's children, and their children's children, and so on, sign this petition to support the EPA and the Clean Power Plan.

If we all work together, we could build a brighter future that returns our planet to those natural cycles that worked so well for so long.

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


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