, Salem, MA


May 23, 2013

Watson: Carbon dioxide in the air increases steadily


With the use of deeply drilled ice cores and analysis of ancient sediments, we can determine atmospheric CO2 quantities accurately for the past 800,000 years. We also have reliable techniques to estimate CO2 levels as old as 3 million years, which appears to be the last time that CO2 concentrations were as high as they are today.

The new quantity of 400 ppm is almost infinitesimal compared to the total gaseous volume of the atmosphere. Yet CO2 has an effective power all out of proportion to its percentage of the air. And understanding that man is rapidly increasing CO2’s presence is key.

This story is genuinely alarming, and you’d think citizens and leaders would respond strongly. But none of what I’ve described is visible, and the unraveling of ecological balances is occurring too subtly and gradually to compete with the powers that are resisting change.

A certain paralysis has set in too. After all, we are all dependent in innumerable ways on a status quo that is complex and finely braided. More and more, with our technologies, our lifestyles, our networks and infrastructures, and our growth-dependent economies, we have made of the world a terrible, stubborn, interlocking trap, and it is we who are caught.


Brian T. Watson is a Salem News columnist. Contact him at




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