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Cary Brunswick

May 14, 2013

We've become our own worst enemies

The past month has been marked by a seeming unprecedented number of man-made tragedies, as distinct from those caused by violent outbursts of the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

You don’t want to dwell too long on the negative, but we do have to take notice of horrific human events and we owe it to ourselves to respond to them in some way. We don’t always agree on those responses, however, and that usually exacerbates the problem.

The previous month began April 15 with the Boston Marathon bombings, which was quickly followed by the fiery fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. Then, on April 24, the building housing several garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh. These tragedies left more than 1,000 dead and hundreds more injured.

The four-week span concluded Friday with an announcement that has yet to result directly in deadly disasters, though they are certainly waiting to happen and eventually will pale the earlier catastrophes.

Scientists reported Thursday that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached levels not occurring since the Earth was a tumultuous mix of volcanoes and bubbling seas, spewing noxious gases and ash into the planet’s young biosphere. That was at least three billion years ago.

While the chaotic phenomena at that time may have led to the development of the earliest forms of life, the levels of pollution we have put into the atmosphere today may contribute to an end of life for many species.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, make the carbon dioxide measurements with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instruments. The carbon dioxide reading Thursday of 400 parts per million was the highest since measurements began in 1958. 

Most experts agree that the gas gets into the atmosphere primarily by fossil fuel burning and is the most significant greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and climate change.

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Cary Brunswick

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