Passing the 400 CO2 PPM Landmark and Its Implication on the Future

-Akshaye Mavinkurve


In the HBO drama “The Newsroom” created by Aaron Sorkin, the host of a primetime news show played by Jeff Daniels interviews Richard Westbrook, the assistant deputy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) played by Paul Lieberstein. Typical of a Sorkin script, the dialogue is quick, adversarial and rhythmic, but within that conversation, there is a lot of interesting substance. The interview covers the calculation of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere and its impact on the future. The Co2 has passed 400 parts per million (ppm) and according to Liebersteins character, we are a decade too late to reverse the effects of global warming and the consequences of climate change. The hope provided by Westbrook is that any immediate reform can only lead to a dystopian future where standards of living are far below par and accessibility to nutritious food and water supply is at its scarcest. The reception it received was lukewarm. Despite most of the science being presented accurately, it faced criticism in how the show tackled the subject. When this came out in November 2014, doomerism was still in the margins of society as much of what we see today was not very common in 2014. 

Interview between Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and Richard Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein) in Season3 episode 3 of HBO’s “The Newsroom”.


Since that episode and the show ended, we have not seen the changes we needed to despite climate action becoming a mainstream discussion. According to the latest IPCC report, the Co2 in the atmosphere has averaged 410 ppm and in 2020, it was calculated to be 412.5 ppm. We have passed the first point of no return which is that we cannot get below 400 pm in our lifetime and despite the warnings and the lobbying and rallies, we continue taking this path reaching infamous milestones we cannot return from. We continue to engage in similar practices and this is despite the obvious rise in extreme ecological events. People in Wales suffered from devastating floods for the first time, parts of Germany and western European countries also faced devastating floods.

Inaction towards tackling the climate problem means that it is inevitable that the Co2 ppm in the atmosphere would reach 500 ppm in 50 years. That means the average temperature could increase by more than 3 degree celsius. That would lead to the worst of worst, more extreme weather patterns, experienced all over the world, the rising of the sea would destroy settlements around the coasts leading to a massive disruption of the global supply chain, destruction of infrastructure for trade and travel, food and water shortages. The last time the planet had an average of 400 ppm Co2 was 16 million years ago. Things were different as the organisms on the planet were adapting to the massive reduction of Co2. At this point, we are not prepared to deal with the fallout of global warming. As the temperature heats up and the scope of land for agriculture reduces and as sources of freshwater reduce, communities isolated and facing scarcity, will face it to the extreme, moving into urban areas and settling in densely populated areas already facing issues such as housing, sanitation, accessibility to nutritious food and clean water, and the burden would continue to increase and a lot of people would be left out of accessing a decent standard of living.


Rising Sea Levels

The last time the Earth had this amount of Co2 in the atmosphere, the sea level was 15-25 m higher than it is now. A lot of the land we have settled in and built into mainstream industrial and commercial locations were not present then and as we move closer to 500 ppm of Co2, it would be inevitable that these places submerge underwater. Despite Ben Shapiro’s brilliant idea to sell houses that are soon to be submerged, in the real world, nobody would want to buy land that is soon to be submerged by water.  

Two-thirds of the world’s major cities are coastal cities and are in serious threat to be submerged in the next 100 years. About 2.4 billion people live at least 100 km from the coastline and 600 million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10 m above sea level. The island communities in the Pacific are already facing the consequences of the rising sea level as 1.2 million people living at low elevation lands are in threat of being displaced. The rising Co2 levels have a huge role in the melting of ice caps in Antarctica, as the natural ecological systems that absorb the carbon have taken the maximum and man-made contribution to rising Co2 levels that are leading to the melting of the ice caps can increase the sea levels by more than a metre by 2100.


The consensus is that the crossing of 400 ppm is a landmark, a number that once crossed, we cannot go back below this level in our lifetime, and at the current pace, we are moving close to 500 ppm. Our goals have been pushed, we were fighting to maintain the average temperature below 1.5 degree celsius but that never seemed realistic, now we have to actively commit to staying below the 2. Degree celsius mark. The amount of Co2 in the air has a huge role in this because as we increase the ppm of Co2, we actively contribute to increasing the temperature and we continue to put ourselves in harm’s way. The children of this time and the children to be born in the future would be born into a world where natural disasters become more common due and would be born at a time where we are fighting among ourselves for nutritious food and water. 

When the industrial revolution started, it reigned in the excess of consumable goods, and as we expanded, we have come to a point where the production of food and consumable items are able to meet the demands, however, the over-expansion and the greed of the most privileged and powerful interests of society have exploited the resources of Earth, have exploited the working class, and it is becoming tougher and tougher to store the wastes created by industry. We have absorbed all the data and information and recognise our way of life is at threat. Now we must work to reform our ways to leave a future that can be habitable for generations. 

Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images

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