Carbon: The substance of life. What all organic matter is made of.
So, I consulted the dictionary and what I have come to discover is there are 27 individual entries for “carbon”. Everything from “carbon” to “carbonyl” as well as those situated-in-between variations on the basic carbon theme.
In its purest form, carbon just lasts and lasts and lasts – think diamond or graphite.
And then there’s the chemistry aspect, whereby when carbon combines with other elements, what is yielded are entirely new ones. Take the elements of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H). They combine to form hydrocarbons (HC) – a chemical toxicant.
One can think of the so-called vessels of life (basically, the fauna and flora), meanwhile, as carbon warehouses, storehouses or stockpiles. For purposes of today’s discussion, it is neither the vessel nor stockpile that is of import, but, rather, the carbon “stock” and the process by which this stock lends itself or is given up to freely combine with other elements to form new ones, which I have decided to denote here as “the carbon stock exchange.”
Despite not having “whiz-kid” smarts, I got through school, holding fast to, you know, those indelible images and notions that become imprinted on our brains for life. Like the idea that our bodies take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide during respiration. So, news flash! This carbon dioxide our bodies are giving up or off, has to go somewhere. It doesn’t just disappear.
Then there’s the excess CO2 – that which roams freely in air, the part that doesn’t get taken up by the seven seas, seeps into the ground or get taken in by plants.
In expanding on the bit about CO2 roaming freely in air, the non-metallic substance right now in the atmosphere globally is at a concentration of an average 418 parts per million parts of air. And, all told, approximately 120 billion tons or 120 gigatons of it per year is added to the global air – and that’s from all sources, anthropogenic and natural alike. The human contribution each year is roughly a third. And, while occupying space in the air, CO2 can remain there for hundreds or for a thousand years or more even.
And in elaborating on the H2O sink (that which is taken up by the seven seas), keep in mind that the oceans take up a good chunk of that CO2, anywhere from 25 to 30 percent. And in water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen combine to form carbonic acid. And, when this happens, what changes is the water world’s pH makeup and if altered enough, this can have a devastating impact on aquatic life.
Then, of course, there’s the part about how carbon dioxide and other atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) are causing both non-natural changes and variations in the climate and in global temperatures, respectively.
Maintaining a healthy balance
It’s all about balance which is the same as saying everything in moderation. (Full disclosure: Not a bad mantra to live by if I do say so myself).
So, you saw where I earlier wrote the word excess as in excess CO2. We know that air has an overabundance of this. Which translates into whatever elements in air are already there are being added to.
Too much of a good thing? Well, not in this case. And, therein lies the problem.
So, what is the problem?!
The problem as I see it, is the world’s carbon budget, it’s carbon account, if you will, has gotten out of balance. And, it needs balancing. We can’t just keep using the air, land and water as a commode. That’s the bottom line.
What we know is that humans are responsible for contributing a third of the atmosphere’s annual carbon budget. This is higher than it’s ever been in the human historical record.
The question we should be asking ourselves and, fortunately, many are, is: How do we fix this; how do we make this right?
In the second installment, covered will be this aspect.
Above and corresponding, connected home-page-entry images: Bureau of Land Management via Wikimedia Commons
Last updated on Jun. 13, 2023 at 7:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
⁃ Alan Kandel