Record annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, despite a levelling off of humanity’s CO2 emissions in recent years, suggest the dire possibility that the globe’s oceans, soils, and vegetation are becoming saturated after years of absorbing up to half of the emissions humanity produces, the New York Times reports.
“In essence, these natural sponges were doing humanity a huge service by disposing of much of its gaseous waste,” the Times explains. “But as emissions have risen higher and higher, it has been unclear how much longer the natural sponges will be able to keep up.”
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If those “sponges” fail, “the result would be something akin to garbage workers going on strike, but on a grand scale.” Planetary warming would speed up, as would its impacts in the form of destabilized weather, rising seas, and collapsing polar ice sheets.
Scientists told the Times that there have been previous upticks in carbon dioxide concentrations during El Niño climate patterns, which dry out the tropics and are associated with wildfires like last year’s Fort McMurray blaze.  The 2015-2016 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, but even that “cannot explain why a high rate of increase in carbon dioxide has continued into 2017, even though the El Niño ended early last year,” the paper states.
Oddly, the report fails to consider another, distinctly human explanation for the gap between reported greenhouse gas releases and their atmospheric presence: that countries’ emissions accounting and disclosure may be less than entirely candid.