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SciShow News explains an ominous record that Homo sapiens just broke: the highest levels of carbon dioxide emissions, the leading factor in global warming. Hank explains what it means, and what we can do.
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[SciShow Intro] 

  What We Did 

Hank (0:11): Last week we talked about how the world's population is set to grow to as many as 12 billion people by the year 2100. Well, there's something else that's growing, too: the amount of carbon dioxide we're spewing into the atmosphere. 

According to a series of studies released this week, by the end of this year, we'll have more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than ever before, since the advent of humanity. 

What's more, these growing emissions are quickly pushing us toward a tipping point in our efforts to mitigate climate change. The studies are part of the Global Carbon Budget, a huge project undertaken by a team of more than 50 researchers from nearly every industrialized country. 

  How We Did It 

Hank (0:45): Their analysis shows that fossil fuel emissions, which are released by burning coal oil and natural gas, are projected to rise 2.5 percent this year over last year. That will push carbon dioxide emissions to a record high of 40 billion metric tons released this year alone.

The research found that the usual suspects are mostly responsible for the emissions growth, namely big developed nations including the United States, the European Union, China and India. China's emissions, for the first time ever, were more than the United States's and the European Union's output combined. 

This is not an easy thing to figure out, the global emissions of carbon dioxide! Carbon Budget scientists discovered all this by using climate models and lots of data from all around the world, measuring things like how fast fossil fuel emissions are being released, and where and how levels of our atmospheric carbon dioxide are changing. 

They use this data to track how much carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere every year and how much more the atmosphere can handle. The benchmark they have their eyes on is when the planet's average surface temperature becomes two degrees Celsius warmer than it was before the Industrial Age. That marker is the internationally agreed-upon threshold at which climate change is thought to become a full-on threat, with ecosystems and agriculture becoming significantly disrupted. 

Disrupting agriculture is not a thing we want.

According to the Budget, future CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions cannot exceed twelve hundred billion metric tons before Earth passes that threshold and enters the climate danger zone. 

But if the world keeps emitting carbon dioxide at the same rate that it is now, researchers say that will bust that budget in just thirty years. 

  What We Can Do

Hank (2:14): So...That's the news. But what can we do at this point? Is our goose just cooked? Well, in order to not pass the two-degree safety threshold, researchers say that we have two main options. 

- One is to leave more than half of the Earth's fossil fuel reserves untapped. Just keep it in the ground. 

- The other is to develop large-scale techniques for carbon dioxide removal. These can include relatively simple and intuitive things, like planting more forests, since plants absorb and hold on to the carbon dioxide, or it could involve more complex solutions like building devices that essentially capture CO2 (carbon dioxide) from smokestacks or just from the atmosphere and stored underground in a process known as carbon sequestration. 

The Carbon Budget researchers say that there are a lot of hurdles to implementing these kind of things, including high costs, untested technology, and the kind of social barriers that come along with big new energy movements.

But we were smart enough to create the technologies that got us into this mess. With the same brain power and some leadership, we might be able to think our way out of it.

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[Outro credits]