Carbon, in its most basic form, is an element. In fact, it’s the most common element for life on Earth! From the air we breathe to the crops we grow, and the chemical makeup of our own bodies, carbon is literally the basis for life.
why are we so concerned with carbon emissions?
We’re focusing specifically on carbon dioxide, or CO2. Naturally, CO2 releases into the atmosphere in a ton of ways. The largest source of natural carbon emissions is from the exchange of carbon dioxide between the oceans and the atmosphere. Animals and plants also emit CO2 through the process of respiration (breathe in oxygen, breathe out CO2). And, when these plants and animals decompose, organisms within the soil respire to produce energy and emit more CO2 into the atmosphere. Nature, as nature tends to do, keeps most of these emissions in balance. Plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, and oceans absorb just about as much carbon dioxide as they let off. Carbon cycles through our air, water, and soil in a continuous process that supports life on earth.
Humans don’t play by the same rules that nature does. When we extract, refine, transport, and burn fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil, we release extra carbon and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. We also cut down large expanses of CO2-absorbing trees to make way for agriculture and new developments, or collect lumber to create new products. When these trees burn or decompose, they emit even more CO2. By removing forests, we also effectively remove the natural systems that absorb and store carbon.
CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases that absorbs radiation and prevents heat from escaping our atmosphere. This excess heat creates disrupted weather patterns, higher global temperature averages in the climate.
The first, and safest option, is to avoid the situations that cause it in the first place. The second is to revert what’s already been done. When you apply this thinking to carbon emissions, it means you can either lower your carbon footprint, or offset it.
From turning out lights when you leave a room to commuting via bus or bike, you can reduce your footprint. Take a look at how you shop, and make a conscious effort to make more sustainable choices. Buy products that make you happy, but make them last. When you do shop, shop with companies that take a stand to reduce their own footprint. By shopping with companies that care, you’re sending the message that you care, too.
The planet’s really good at taking care of itself. When we overload it with too much of any one thing, however, it can start to lose its balance. By taking steps now to reduce our own carbon footprints, we can allow the Earth to find that balance again, so we (and our children) can continue to enjoy and appreciate its beauty for years to come.