Understanding Atmospheric Carbon

Many of us are concerned about the environment. Defining what ‘excessive’ carbon really means is the hard part. For instance, most carbon in our atmosphere exists as carbon dioxide. However, levels of carbon dioxide have been far greater in the earth’s past history than they are now. This is proven fact that is widely accepted.

Yet, there are some who would like to remove as much carbon as is possible from the atmosphere, not ever realizing that if we did so, we would be almost certainly dooming the earth. No plants could survive, and since plants are at the base of the food chain, it wouldn’t be long before no animal would survive either, including man.

Most carbon is locked up in ocean waters, and a lot more is found in rocks. This is appropriate since the largest producer of carbon dioxide, by up to hundreds of times more than man is capable of, are volcanic eruptions. A single moderate volcanic eruption produces more CO2 than all of mankind produces in a year. At any given time, there are 11 to 17 (average about 13) volcanoes erupting on Earth, most of them under the surface of the ocean.

The ocean then absorbs a great deal of the carbon or carbon dioxide in an ongoing process that has been occurring for billions of years.

The more carbon that is available in the atmosphere, too, the more that plant life flourishes. Our atmosphere has never had more carbon in the atmosphere than during the era of the dinosaurs. At that time, plant life was verdant and lush. Had it not been so, coal, oil, and natural gas would not exist today.

It seems to be part of Earth’s failsafe mechanism. If there really is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the earth compensates by locking more in water, or by allowing more plants to grow to absorb the excess. In every case, this has been a boon for the planet. This is proven time and again, though there are those that refuse to accept it.

This brings us back to the question of how to remove excessive carbon from the atmosphere. The problem with the question is that nobody knows what is ‘excessive’ really means. Some people guess what it might mean, but nobody really knows for sure. The oceans and plants take a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere, ground, and sea, so it is reasonable to assume that encouraging plant growth and the action of the sea is good for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Still, we have to wonder. If CO2 is so bad, why did life flourish so much more than now, back a few million years when the carbon dioxide levels were so much higher than now? In fact, increased CO2 almost always results in a larger number of healthy plant life. That has always led to a greater number and a greater diversity of animal life. I wonder if this is a bad thing after all.