We may have reached an ‘uh-oh’ moment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that last month (May), its longtime monitoring station atop Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii, averaged 421 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. Hawaii of course is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from any industry or auto emissions.

The Mauna Loa monitoring station has been in place there since the late 19th century, tracking a suite of weather and atmospheric elements. Before the start of the industrial revolution late in the 19th century, carbon dioxide levels were about 280 parts per million. Scientists report that 350 ppm is the tipping point before the world experiences more heat related climate issues such as excessive heat waves and rising sea levels.

Last month’s average of 421 ppm is the highest ever recorded at Mauna Loa, and NOAA reports that this carbon dioxide level is about the same as about 4.5 million years ago in the Pliocene era. At that point in time, temperatures were 7 degrees higher and sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than now. For example, South Florida was completely under water during that era.

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 did reduce global carbon dioxide emissions a bit, but they bounced back in 2021 and thus far this year. Most carbon dioxide releases arise from the burning of coal, gas, and oil.

Much of the world’s warmer temperatures in recent decades have been in the Polar Regions. As a result, permafrost such as in parts of Alaska are thawing, releasing trapped carbon dioxide and methane gases – both major greenhouse gases – adding to the continued rise in these gases around the globe.

Without sharp reductions in carbon pollution, University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles highlighted, “We will see ever more damaging levels of climate change, more heat waves, more flooding, more droughts, and more large storms and higher sea levels.”

For those in the North Sound, there are some things that can be done. For one, trees absorb carbon dioxide and in exchange, produce more oxygen. Trees literally breathe. Planting more trees is one task North Sound residents can do to combat carbon pollution. Since cars and trucks use petroleum products, shifting to electric vehicles, more fuel efficient vehicles, and carpooling offer other low hanging fruit efforts. And with elevated gas prices, more and more drivers are moving to electric vehicles in the region.