Carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere and is of considerable concern in global climate change because of its greenhouse gas warming potential. The rate of increase has accelerated since measurements began at Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958 where carbon dioxide increased from less than 1 part per million per year (ppm yr−1) prior to 1970 to more than 2 ppm yr−1 in recent years. Here we show that the anthropogenic component (atmospheric value reduced by the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increasing exponentially with a doubling time of about 30 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution (∼1800). Even during the 1970s, when fossil fuel emissions dropped sharply in response to the “oil crisis” of 1973, the anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide level continued increasing exponentially at Mauna Loa Observatory. Since the growth rate (time derivative) of an exponential has the same characteristic lifetime as the function itself, the carbon dioxide growth rate is also doubling at the same rate. This explains the observation that the linear growth rate of carbon dioxide has more than doubled in the past 40 years. The accelerating growth rate is simply the outcome of exponential growth in carbon dioxide with a nearly constant doubling time of about 30 years (about 2%/yr) and appears to have tracked human population since the pre-industrial era.

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