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Friday, May 17, 2013. Tampa Bay Times

The big threat to Florida's future that elected leaders aren't talking about: the average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the past 10 days, two different groups of scientists have reported the heat-trapping gas has reached the neighborhood of 400 parts per million — a level not seen for millions of years and not since sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher.

But amid another partisan week of politics in Washington, there was minimal reaction to estimates that in less than 25 years the planet could suffer irreversible damage. Nor was there acknowledgement that long-term worldwide efforts — including the lackadaisical strategies by biggest carbon polluters China and the United States — are nowhere near what is needed to slow the trend. Such neglect portends significant risk to coastal states like Florida and future generations.

To get a sense of how quickly human activity has altered CO2 levels, scientists study ancient air bubbles in Antarctic ice. For about the last 8,000 years, which represents the age of human civilization, CO2 levels measured around 280 parts per million in the atmosphere. But since the start of the Industrial Revolution, after the burning of fossil fuels accelerated, levels of greenhouse gases have spiked 41 percent. Hitting the 400 parts per million mark, the highest daily average ever recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, brings the planet closer to 450 ppm, the maximum level nations have set if the world is to prevent massive damage from global warming. At this rate, experts say the planet will hit that point in under 25 years. Read more