The pandemic and its related shutdowns caused a notable drop in the emission of greenhouse gases. But that did little to put a dent in the growing concentration of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, reports the Washington Post. The new numbers are in, and they're record-breaking in a bad way. Scientists reported Monday that CO2 levels reached an average 419 parts per million in May, the highest figure since record-keeping began 63 years ago. And Axios notes that levels haven't been this high since what's known as the Pliocene Epoch more than 4 million years ago. Meaning, this is the highest mark since humans began walking the Earth. Even with the pandemic, the average is expected to exceed 420ppm next year—in fact, daily levels already have poked above that mark twice this year.
"Fossil fuel burning is really at the heart of this," geochemist Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography tells the Post, adding that emission reductions "much larger and sustained" than those during the pandemic would have to be in place before improvement is seen. The new level was reported by Scripps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For context, the world hit 400ppm in 2013, and it's taken only eight years to climb to the current level. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, and while it breaks down naturally, the current rate of accumulation offsets that. That, in turn, is blamed for cascading problems related to a warming planet. "We're moving deeper and deeper into a territory we almost certainly never would have wanted to get to," Keeling tells Axios. (Read more carbon dioxide stories.)