Antarctica saw Carbon dioxide levels rise to 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 4 million years.
Global warming is a controversial subject. While many believe it is a real phenomenon, there are skeptics who deny the existence of such a thing. A recent report Scientific American by Brian Kahn reveals a record 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide at Antarctica. In a way this is the last station on planet earth to monitor carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The world as a whole had surpassed and maintained this threshold for a month in 2015.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that on May 23, South Pole observatory recorded >400 ppm carbon dioxide, highest level in 4 million years. Interestingly, this happened in spite of the fact that on this part of earth there is not much human activity but it matched its most populated counterparts. This would suggest that movement/transport of carbon dioxide recognizes no boundaries. It is produced in one part of the world and can be seen at far off distant places, Antarctica in this case. This movement is fairly fast and according to one assertion (reported in Scientific American), “if you emit carbon dioxide in New York, some fraction of it will be in the South Pole next year.” Thus the countries producing most of the carbon dioxide must share the responsibility to mitigate negative effects on regions that are being affected as a result of global climate change.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been steadily rising since the industrial revolution set in. Most of this carbon dioxide comes from burning of fossil fuels. As the human development index is closely related to the energy consumption (fossil fuels being the preponderant energy source in most situations), so is the consumption of fossil fuels and release of carbon dioxide into the environment. Countries with the highest development index are the highest in contributions to the atmospheric carbon dioxide. As the human population grows further and the development index improves especially in the presently poor or less developed (but high population) countries, the rise in carbon dioxide levels is expected to be accelerated.
Being a greenhouse gas (GHG), contribution to global warming and the implications thereof, concerns about elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are serious and far reaching. Touching or surpassing, most probably sustainably, 400 ppm carbon dioxide levels globally is an important reminder that how human activity and intervention vis-à-vis natural dynamics of earth’s ecosystems, will continue to affect our planet. Implications of elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to different ecosystem components (both physical and biological) of the planet earth are serious and diverse. For example, in the past 120 years, sea levels have shown an increase of about 30 cm and ca 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperature. Arctic sea ice has decreased by >1% since 1970’s.
Pakistan being an agricultural country, will be affected by the impact of global warming and climate (although not of her own doing in terms of carbon dioxide emissions) in multiple ways. Climate change will impact agriculture and food production due to the effects of elevated CO2 in the atmosphere, higher temperatures, altered precipitation and transpiration (loss of water from plant leaves) regimes, increased frequency of extreme events (storms, drought, floods), change in farming practices resulting from reduced crop yields, longer or unpredictable growing seasons and farming conditions, loss of fertile coastal lands by rising sea level, and modified weed, pest and pathogen pressure etc.
In view of the effects of elevated carbon dioxide vis-à-vis global warming, mitigating measures are required that may include:
- Reduce burning of fossil fuels or deploy alternate energy sources
- Increase vegetated areas as vegetation is presumed to help reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere through increased photosynthesis particularly in plants with carbon-3 cycle (C-3 plants, there are C-4 plants as well that comprise about 4-5% of the total plant diversity and do not respond positively to elevated carbon dioxide levels). Thus increase in vegetation especially the forestry and horticulture can help reduce CO2 levels. However, the same may not be expected from agricultural crops
- Sequester carbon dioxide through photosynthesis followed by conversion of biomass into inert materials like biochar and using the later as soil conditioner whereby it will stay away from conversion back into carbon dioxide for hundreds of years. Vegetation types that are efficient in biomass production are best suited to this practice