What does Hawaii have to do with the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide?

The Mauna Loa Observatory, found on the large island of Hawaii, is a premier atmospheric research facilityat an elevation of 3,397 meters, or 11,135 feet, at the Mauna Loa Volcano. The station was built 2,485 miles from the American mainland — deliberately positioned away from any civilization, so nothing should distort the measurements.

Since 1958, the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has been continuously measured here and recorded in the longest series of measurements available, the so-called Keeling Curve (named after the researcher Charles David Keeling). The measurements document the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the combustion of fossil hydrocarbons. The gas prevents the heat radiating from the Earth’s surface from escaping back into space and keeps more heat on Earth — just like a greenhouse (so-called greenhouse effect).

The Keeling Curve always rises, with three exceptions. The first was during the oil crisis in the mid-1970s, when the Arab states cut oil production by 5 percent and the price of oil almost doubled. The second was in the early 1990s, during the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the last was during the financial crisis of 2008. During these phases, less was produced, transported and consumed. When the economy slowed, so did CO2 emissions. 

CO2 Records Despite The Global Lockdown

In contrast, the COVID 19 pandemic did not lead to a bend in the Keeling Curve. In the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic, fewer airplanes flew, fewer cars were on the road and the industry produced less in many countries. Nevertheless, new CO2 records were set at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

The following graph is taken from the official homepage of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends


The CO2 curve continues to rise undamped and in April 2020 already exceeds the peak value from May of the previous year. This once again illustrates the basic problem: CO2 is a very long-living substance that remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The burning of gas, oil and coal adds more and more CO2. At the moment, less CO2 is added, but it is too local and time-limited to make a noticeable difference.

A comparison with a full bathtub makes it clear: Although there is currently slightly less “water flowing into the bathtub,” overflowing can only be prevented by turning off the tap.

For the fight against climate change and global warming “a little less” is just not enough.

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