The world’s atmospheric carbon concentration has reached an irreversible, critical tipping point of 400 parts per million (ppm). “It already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year—or ever again for the indefinite future,” principal investigator for the Atmospheric Oxygen Research Group at Scripps Institution of Oceanography Ralph Keeling said last week. Scientists have long warned about the dangers of reaching this critical concentration which include cataclysmic events such as rapidly rising sea levels, food chain disruption, ocean acidification, and extinction. Keeling is currently measuring CO2 levels—which should be at their lowest point in the cycle of atmospheric carbon concentration in September—from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has maintained a record of CO2 levels in the area since 1958. The scientist recorded CO2 levels to be at 401 ppm and warned that future levels below the “tipping point” are nearly impossible. A highly referenced report compiled by the United Nations in 2009 revealed that raising cows for food plays a disproportionate role in greenhouse gas emissions, twice that of all transportation combined. “If there’s an inkling of a silver lining here,” says Vice contributing editor Sarah Emerson who covered the tipping point story, “it’s that scary numbers could scare people into action.”
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