The world has already passed its carbon tipping point and there’s no going back

President Obama has made protecting the environment and fighting climate change a priority throughout his years in office, but of course, there’s only so much one person, and one nation, can do to address global levels of carbon emissions, especially when the fossil fuel industry financially owns the majority of said nation’s senators. As of Monday, scientists are now saying the world has reached its carbon dioxide tipping point, and there’s really no going back. Nice knowing ya, Earth.

Planet Earth has officially pushed atmospheric carbon levels past the dreaded 400 parts per million threshold, but the really terrifying thing is that according to researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, it’s unlikely the levels will ever go back down. Patterns revealed by 2013 research published by scientists at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory indicate that carbon levels usually reach an annual low point near the end of September, but this year, they steadily remained around 401 ppm, Scripps notes.

Scientists at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory researched atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide since 1958, and found they had reached a daily average above 400 parts per million for the first time in history, the highest “in millions of years,” calling the milestone a “wake-up call.” Now, it looks like we’ve not only surpassed this, but will never see levels of carbon dioxide lower than this again.

Climate Change And Global Pollution To Be Discussed At Copenhagen Summit
CREDIT: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Antarctica, which was the last place on Earth without a 400 ppm CO2 reading, finally reached this ratio back in May.

At this point, reducing this ratio could frankly be impossible, though some hope exists in the Paris climate accord, which the U.S. ratified earlier this month.

Following the agreement, countries would be required to prevent “global average temperatures from rising above pre-industrial levels of 1.5°C,” Vice’s Motherboard reports, through lowering emissions and clean energy practices. However, with only 60 nations accounting for just 47.76 percent of the world’s carbon emissions on board with the agreement, so far, how much it will actually steer a planet on the verge of the apocalypse back on track is to be seen.

Most scientists (literally 97 percent of them) agree climate change is, indeed, a thing and it is happening as we speak, while contributing to the extinction of various creatures, disruption of ecosystems, rising temperatures and sea levels, and a great many other societal ills that will very soon come to bite us all in the ass if they haven’t yet.

Then, of course, there’s the disproportionately negative effects climate change has on female agricultural workers in Asia and Africa trying to gather water and farm, as well as indigenous women trying to protect sacred, ancestral lands from global warming-caused natural disasters.

But perhaps at the end of the day this news does come with a silver lining of some sorts. For years, Senate Republicans have fought reforms either by angrily wielding snowballs and flat-out denying that climate change was happening and caused by human activity, or claiming that sure, it might be happening, but it isn’t an urgent issue. These latest findings starkly contradict both narratives used by politicians owned by Exxon Mobile or the Koch brothers to justify their inaction. Still, it’s unlikely this will move them to act given how much louder money speaks to them than science.

In the same way that it tends to be easier for men to deny that sexism still exists, you know, considering they’re far less likely to be subjected to it, it’s also easier for men in privileged countries to deny that climate change is real or worth fighting simply because its detriments are less felt in wealthier areas of the United States. Why should it matter to a rich white senator that somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa a woman is struggling to find drinking water? Why do the struggles of poor communities struggling to rebuild after climate change-induced storms and hurricanes matter, to them?

Still, at the end of the day, it’s worth noting that the most unsettling aspect of this latest development in the climate change dialogue isn’t that carbon ratios of 390 and 400 ppm are that different, and reaching the 400+ ppm threshold is instantaneously going to result in the world’s implosion — it’s that there’s no going back.

As Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, put it in an interview with the Huffington Post, the real tension lies in the symbolism of finally surpassing this threshold. “When you focus on the fact that it’s moving through thresholds like that,” Keeling said, “you get an appreciation for how it’s actually changing.”