It’s the 810 gigatonnes and climbing in our atmosphere that causes the atmos-fear. Carbon is a stable atom, but the amount of it in our atmosphere is de-stablising its ability to control our climate. We can’t even exhale without it; my eco-worrier paranoia comes to the fore, cringes and wonders - should I cut down on breathing?
The average person inhales around 25,000 times a day filtering 10,000 litres of air for oxygen and producing approx 900 grams of CO2, more if physically active. With over 6 billion of us that’s close to 6 trillion tonnes of CO2 a day. Seems like one of those figures meant to restrain your desire to sigh and instead consider draconian population control. But don’t hold your breath! What we are exhaling is fast cycle CO2 - it was absorbed by eating plants and animals that ate plants. Emitting this CO2 doesn’t make any difference to atmospheric levels as it would have decomposed and re-entered the environment within a short time period anyway. So breathe easy.
It’s become a much maligned substance, but, like our decision to consider guns evil (when it’s the person using them), or that money is evil (when it’s the love of it), carbon is the scapegoat side effect of our lifestyle.
Carbon is naturally sequestered in coal, oil, and organic matter over millions of years and we’ve become adept at extracting it. We have a myriad of techniques devised to access the stored energy to do everything from increase the carbon value in our toast (by burning it) to converting it into plastic boxes plugged into fossil fuel based energy sources used to exchange electronic information, sometimes all day, in the thermostatically controlled atmosphere of a home or office.
We are so inventive with the stuff, we drop it below –78.5o and use it to make dry ice to augment nightclub atmosphere in which we toss back drinks livened up with little bubbles made of the same stuff. There seems to be no end to the things we can do with two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom.
It’s difficult to visualize 391ppm of carbon suspended in the atmosphere. The problem is it’s invisible to the eye and odourless and unless you have a Photo acoustic Field Gas-Monitor handy you can only measure its effects by the number of magazine articles and news bulletins the subject generates.
However, when we drive to work and flick switches on electrical appliances we can visualise our contribution to the carbon equation by understanding that on average, for every litre of petrol we burn, 2.4 kilos of CO2 is created and this pollutes 10,500 litres of fresh air. Every kilowatt hour of coal produced electricity creates approximately 1 kilogram of CO2. An average household uses 15 kWh a day, polluting 65,000 litres of air.
For the eco-worrier, when it comes to the carbon cycle, the best advice is to get on yours and don’t be frightened to exhale!