The World Meteorological Organization released a report on Nov. 20 that said the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had reached a record high in 2011.
According to the study, about half of all greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by carbon sinks — carbon dioxide consuming elements of the biosphere such as oceans or trees. The other half remains concentrated in the atmosphere and is thought to be the main factor contributing to climate change.
The heat-trapping effect of greenhouse gases has also increased by 30 percent since 1990, the study said. The WMO pinned 85 percent of this increase on carbon dioxide, reporting that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere hit 390.9ppm in 2011, 140 percent more than its pre-industrial age level.
“These billions of tons of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries,” WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said in a statement.
Jarraud also said that some parts of the Earth’s environment might not be able to sustain these high levels of carbon dioxide.
“We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs,” Jarraud said.
Stern junior Nami Mody, who is the president of the student group Net Impact, placed part of the blame for this rise in greenhouse gases on the failure of people to take any level of individual responsibility.
“We have to stop thinking as individuals and start thinking as more of a collective,” Mody said. “We should think about what would happen if the seven billion other people on our planet did the same.”
Gallatin sophomore Sophie Lasoff is an active member of one of NYU’s environmental group, Earth Matters. Currently, she is organizing the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign for NYU, which encourages the university to stop all investment in fossil fuel-related businesses.
“This campaign has been launched in direct response to these scary global trends and targets the industries that should be held directly responsible,” Lasoff said.
GLS freshman Anna Davies was struck by how little these numbers seem to affect the political conversation.
“I just don’t understand why main polluters, like the United States and China, can continue going along as if nothing is happening,” Davies said.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 5 print edition. Andrew Karpan is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org