Re-Setting the Carbon Balance
Carbon more than lives up to its billing as being incredibly important to our lives on earth.
It’s an essential building block of life, present in every living thing where it’s needed to form molecules like proteins.
Ever-present, it’s stored in so-called carbon reservoirs like the ocean, geological formations, trees and plants. And it’s also present in the air we breathe.
The fourth most abundant element in the universe, carbon determines whether something is organic or inorganic in origin. It can be in in solid form like allotropes, such as graphite and diamond, and compounds like limestone or oyster shells, or in gas form as carbon dioxide (CO2).
But it’s the gas form of carbon dioxide that’s given carbon - this vital component of life - such a bad reputation in recent years, making the phrase Carbon Footprint a villain of everyday life.
Upsetting Natural Balance
Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a so-called greenhouse gas, that traps the sun’s radiation energy as it reflects back to space from the Earth’s surface.
Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, water vapour, and fluorocarbons are needed to create the greenhouse effect in the earth’s atmosphere – together, they maintain liveable environments for all of us below on the surface. Without them, we’d all be freezing in temperatures well below zero.
Carbon dioxide is the most common of the greenhouse gases by volume and the most resilient, outlasting the others by hundreds of years.
And these two qualities mean it’s also considered to be the most damaging of the greenhouse gases. Put this together with Man’s well-proven talent for overloading Mother Nature’s bounty and you have a recipe for disaster.
Rise of the Machines
For millions of years, Mother Nature happily kept carbon dioxide ticking over, with the greenhouse effect doing as it was intended to maintain optimal temperatures on earth for life to exist as intended.
Then, about 250 years ago, came our Industrial Revolution with more and more carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels as rapid growth of industry and its associated pollution became routine.
The atmospheric balance of greenhouse gases that had been sustaining life on earth was knocked out of kilter, and the planet began to heat up – in other words, global warming became an everyday occurrence.
Another important ingredient in this recipe for disaster is deforestation, caused by destruction of forests for timber, or farming and housing to cater to the needs of expanding populations.
Deforestation means there’s fewer natural carbon reservoirs in the shape of trees to absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – and with fewer plants and trees to hoover up excess carbon dioxide, it builds-up as a greenhouse gas.
The ocean is another carbon reservoir too, but all the excess carbon dioxide absorbed by its waters has caused ocean acidisation, wiping out marine creatures and coral, as well as affecting another building block of life, phytoplankton’s ability to photosynthesise.
In Nature, everything works well when there’s balance. But it’s pretty obvious that our carbon has gone off the scale, with the earth’s carbon reservoirs filled to bursting, causing runaway climate change from pole to pole.
And we only have ourselves to blame.