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Climate change since the Industrial Revolution: How did we get from 280 ppm CO2 to where we are today?

By 3 November 2023April 14th, 2024No Comments

In the azure expanse bordering Australia’s coastline, the Great Barrier Reef—revered as a pinnacle of oceanic wonders—stands at the forefront of a battle against climate change. This silent yet pervasive threat, unleashed by the advent of the Industrial Revolution, has since cast a long shadow over this majestic natural entity. The inquiry beckons: How did we transition from the pre-industrial atmospheric stability of 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 to the alarming thresholds we encounter today?

Tracing back to the twilight of the 18th century, the world teetered on the brink of profound transformation. The Industrial Revolution heralded a departure from agrarian livelihoods towards industrial and mechanised production. This era, heavily reliant on coal, propelled carbon dioxide emissions upward as deforestation accelerated for agricultural expansion and urban development burgeoned. Subsequently, CO2 concentrations have soared beyond the 280 ppm benchmark, reaching upwards of 410 ppm in recent assessments. This dramatic escalation poses significant threats to delicate ecosystems, notably coral reefs globally and the emblematic Great Barrier Reef.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef is not a monolithic structure but a complex amalgam of more than 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, spanning more than 2,300 kilometres or 14 degrees of latitude. It epitomises biodiversity, hosting countless unique species and underpinning local economies through tourism and fisheries. However, the Great Barrier Reef finds itself besieged by the ramifications of escalating CO2 levels.

The surge in carbon dioxide is a principal driver of climate change, engendering warmer sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and heightened severity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena. Such environmental shifts bear grave consequences for the Great Barrier Reef. Notably, the phenomenon of coral bleaching, a stress-induced response to thermal anomalies, has intensified, with the consecutive bleaching events of 2016 and 2017 then in 2020 and 2022 and now in 2024 serving as stark indicators of the reef’s fragility to climate-induced pressures.

The progression from a pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm CO2 to the current environmental crisis underscores the profound influence of human activities on the Earth. Nonetheless, it also illuminates the potential of unified, concerted efforts towards environmental restoration and resilience. The Great Barrier Reef, a marvel of natural intricacy and beauty, beckons for a commitment to sustainable practices and conservation endeavours.

As we confront the challenges posed by climate change, supporting organizations like Reef Restoration Foundation becomes imperative. Collaboratively, we can contribute to the protection and rejuvenation of the Great Barrier Reef and other critical ecosystems globally. To learn more about the conservation efforts underway and how you can make a difference, visit our website. Join us in our mission to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef, its unique biodiversity, and the myriad lives depending on its survival.

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