The carbon cycle is one of many biogeochemical processes important to life on Earth. It also happens to be, mostly due to human activity, the primary culprit behind climate change. This occurs when carbon sinks, which are long-term storage places, release burnt fossil fuels into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.
Here is an example of the carbon cycle:
- First, carbon atoms move from the atmosphere (as CO2) to plants through photosynthesis.
- Then, the carbon atoms are moved from plants to animals. This occurs when animals consume plants and then each other through the food chain.
- Next, the carbon atoms move from plants and animals to the soil. When these organisms die and then decompose, their leftover carbon is absorbed into the ground. Some of the carbon will become buried and develop into fossil fuels in millions of years.
- On the contrary, some of the carbon present in living things will return to the atmosphere through respiration (breathing). Animals and plants have to rid their bodies of carbon dioxide, as it can be toxic in high concentrations.
- The carbon from fossil fuels can also be released back into the atmosphere when the fuels are burned. Humans burn these fossil fuels to power factories, vehicles, and power plants, among other things. When this happens, carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Every year, approximately 5.5 billion tons of carbon is released due to this phenomena.
- Finally, some of the carbon in the atmosphere is moved to the oceans, where it will dissolve. A large amount will still remain in the atmosphere, however.
Carbon dioxide, as a greenhouse gas, helps keep the Earth warm and habitable. But because of modern human activity and quick industrial advancement, large amounts of CO2 have been released. It is natural for our atmospheric climate to shift as a result of the carbon cycle, but this is entirely manmade. It is up to us to recognize the damage that we’re causing and work to alleviate it.