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Researchers issue warning after data shows record-breaking increase in air pollution levels: 'It's sad what we are doing'

"It makes me sad more than anything."

"It makes me sad more than anything."

Photo Credit: iStock

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising at an alarming rate, with experts warning that the largest ever recorded increase occurred over the last year.

Carbon concentrations in March 2024 were a staggering 4.7 parts per million higher than in March 2023, according to the Guardian.

What's happening?

Carbon levels have jumped by a record amount over the past 12 months — even higher than the previous record set in 2016, according to levels measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Global carbon concentrations hit 421 parts per million in June, a 50% increase compared to pre-industrial times and the highest in millions of years.

Before humans began releasing huge amounts of carbon, levels remained steady at around 280 parts per million for nearly 6,000 years. The current reading from NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii shows we've now reached about 426 parts per million.

"Human activity has caused CO2 to rocket upwards. It makes me sad more than anything. It's sad what we are doing," said Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Why are soaring carbon levels concerning?

This rapid buildup of carbon threatens our communities with more dangerous heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. The last time levels were this high was around 14 million years ago, leading to a vastly different climate than what people depend on today.

Rising carbon and the resulting climate disruptions put our health, food supply, infrastructure and quality of life at risk. Hotter temperatures will make it harder to grow crops, more flooding will damage homes and businesses, and air pollution from wildfires will worsen respiratory illnesses. 

The impacts will touch all our lives.

What's being done about record carbon levels?

While the situation is serious, there are solutions that can turn this trend around for a safer future.

On a large scale, transitioning to clean energy, such as wind and solar power, to run our electric grid is key to reducing pollution.

As individuals, saving energy at home, choosing public transit or EVs over gas cars, and eating more plants over meat all cut carbon. Planting trees is another great way to remove existing carbon from the air.

By taking action in our own lives and supporting policies to expand clean energy, we can build healthier communities and get carbon back to sustainable levels. The more we each do now, the better off we'll be later.

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