We hear a lot about carbon dioxide and how it’s the main driver behind climate change. But do you know why carbon dioxide is harmful to the environment, and why it’s good for the environment too? Let’s find out.
What is carbon dioxide?
Carbon dioxide is a gas consisting of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. Carbon dioxide occurs naturally through volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and human respiration. It’s also generated by human-made activities such as burning fossil fuels for power and transportation.
Carbon dioxide is also known as a greenhouse gas. This means it works with other gases in the Earth’s atmosphere to create the greenhouse effect.
What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is where greenhouses gases, such as CO2, absorb the sun’s solar energy and traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere, creating a climate habitable for humans and other species.
During the day, the sun sends solar energy to the earth, warming up our oceans and land. At night, the Earth releases this energy back into the air to escape through the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap some of this escaping heat, keeping our plant at a temperature perfect for living in.
What are the greenhouse gases?
The gas primarily responsible for the greenhouse effect is carbon dioxide. This isn’t because it’s the most powerful greenhouse gas, but because it’s the largest occurring gas – nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide. Other greenhouse gases include:
- Methane – released from landfills, petroleum industries and agriculture. Methane accounts for approximately 16% of greenhouse gas emissions and stays in the atmosphere for around 12 years.
- Nitrous Oxide – released from agriculture, livestock and burning fuel. Nitrous Oxide is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide but accounts for only 6% of emissions.
- Industrial gases – used as solvents and refrigerants and in manufacturing. Industrial gases are more potent than carbon dioxide but account for only 2% of all greenhouse gases.
There’s also water vapour and ozone.
Why is carbon dioxide helpful to the environment?
Before we look at why carbon dioxide is harmful to the environment, let’s first consider why it’s helpful to the environment. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet at a balmy 15°C – a temperature ideal for humans and other species to live and thrive in. Without gases such as carbon dioxide to create the greenhouse effect, the Earth’s average temperature would be -18°C. The world would be covered in ice, and life wouldn’t be as we know it. The greenhouse effect is a good thing when it’s in balance. Here is where the problem lies.
Why is carbon dioxide harmful to the environment?
The problem is that carbon dioxide is tipping the greenhouse effect out of balance. Before the 1700s, the Earth was happily regulating the greenhouse effect – absorbing solar energy and emitting greenhouse gases at a steady rate. Then, the Industrial Revolution happened. Emissions of greenhouse gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, have been steadily increasing and kicking the greenhouse effect out of balance. What does this mean? Essentially, there are too many greenhouse gases absorbing the sun’s energy, which means our planet is slowly warming up. We know this as climate change. And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Between 2000 and 2020, the Earth’s emissions more than quadrupled from the previous decade.
What are the effects of climate change?
Experts predict that if our greenhouse gases continue to rise as they have done over the last half-century, the world will be 4°C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution by 2099. These rising average temperatures could cause:
- Ice caps to melt and oceans to warm, causing sea levels to rise.
- Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, heavy downpours and wildfires
- Changes to where different wildlife populations can live and survive.
- Disrupted access to food
- Increased spreading of diseases such as malaria.
What can we do to minimise the harmful effects of carbon dioxide?
While we can’t turn back time, we can take action now to avoid irreversible damage to the plant.
1. Limit your use of fossil fuels
First, it’s crucial to limit the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. You can do this in a variety of ways, for example:
- Using renewable and clean energy sources
- Reducing travel by car or plane
- Buying long-lasting products
- Shopping seasonally and locally
2. Offset your carbon emissions
After you’ve reduced your carbon emissions as much as possible, you can offset any unavoidable emissions to compensate. For example, you might plant a tree to offset business carbon emissions unavoidable by your business, or fund a peatland restoration project. The crucial thing is that we all start taking action now – before it’s too late.
MoreTrees is a tree planting platform that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to offset their carbon. Plant trees in forests across the world at the click of a button, or integrate with our API to plant trees automatically. You can even gift them to customers, clients and friends.