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So yes...this is pretty much why I never share stories about hopeful ideas to sequester carbon into soils or by planting trees, throwing some iron in the oceans to induce algae, etc. People do not really grasp how extreme and profound the changes we are making to the planet. Literally every freaking day. Burning something for energy and releasing its waste products is a hell of a lot easier than reconstituting it (which also requires energy).
We've released over 1500 billion tons of carbon dioxide since the Industrial Revolution. However, half of that carbon dioxide release has been since 1988! 743 billion tons through 2014. Of course, that's grown more since (around 40 billion tons/yr!). We've done more to alter Earth's atmosphere since I was born in the mid-1980s than had been done between my birth and the 1750s! But there's more to the story, as the screenshot of this shows above.
Plants take *a lot* of time to sequester carbon. "Sequester" meaning lock it up and bind it. Oceans, carbonate rocks in the oceans, and of course buried and turned into coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. Tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. Fossil fuels are essentially chemically stored sunlight from plant growth. The rate at which we are burning and releasing once stored carbon the past 25 yrs is equivalent to 5,576 years of plant's sequestration of carbon per day! Civilization is ~10,000 years old, the anatomically modern human is at least 250,000 years old. So on average the past 25 yrs, we released more carbon in two days globally than plants were able to store and lock up as solid materials over the time equivalent to the history of human civilization! It only took 45 days to equal the sequestration done by plants during a length of time equivalent to the whole history of anatomically modern humanity on this planet! Our current carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes other greenhouse gases which have also increased - and continue to increase massively (namely methane and nitrous oxide), is ~500 parts per million. This is equivalent to the atmospheric state 20-30 million years ago based on current paleoclimate estimates. Humanity has altered the atmosphere from a late interglacial period within the Ice Age Era (280 ppm) to an equivalent Hothouse era (500 ppm) in just 270 years. And more than half the shift has been in just the past 30 years. Our current atmosphere is "equivalent" to hothouse in that the system still has another 3-4 C of warming baked in, just from the current greenhouse gas concentration. This is accelerating as ice collapses, oceans warm, water vapor content increases, cloud cover changes, etc. And that's not including the huge amounts of carbon locked in permafrost which is actively releasing right now, in the form of methane and carbon dioxide. Given the cloud feedbacks increasing the planet's sensitivity to greenhouse gases as the planet warms, 8-12 C of global warming appears baked in.
This is truly profound destabilization of the climate system and biosphere and why climate change is so incredibly abrupt and accelerating. The planet is racing to catch up to this incredible imbalance humans have created with the extinction of ice keeping the planet cool; the burning and death of forests; aridification; moistening of the atmosphere producing more intense rainfalls...all of it. The human species, which depends on other species, simply cannot survive on this planet as other species fall at the hands of such extreme and accelerating changes. And the ecological destruction, resource depletion and related pollution are other huge, abrupt pressures allowing the 6th mass extinction event to continue.
---Meteorologist Nick Humphrey