Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change

Too much, too soon

The size of one tonne of CO2, which can be offset by 100 Eco.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an invisible gas that results from combustion of oxygen and carbon. In addition to the carbon dioxide created by air-breathing mammals (like us), burning oil, coal and natural gas also produces carbon dioxide. This is because these fuels are the ancient remains of carbon-based lifeforms such as plankton and plants (not dinosaurs). When we burn these carbon remnants, they combine with oxygen in our air, and produce CO2.

Why This Matters

Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas because it traps heat, resulting in a warmer, greenhouse-like environment. Greenhouse gases are an essential part of what sustains life on earth, because without them the planet would be too cold for beings like us.

For example, our neighbor the planet Mars has an atmosphere that is 95% carbon dioxide. But its atmosphere is 100 times less dense than Earth's, so there is very little greenhouse effect. The result? The average temperature on Mars is 80 degrees below zero (-62 Celsius).

For a longer explanation, the Natural Resources Defense Council has an excellent introduction to greenhouse gases.

Explosive Growth of Greenhouse Gases

As a result of human activities, there has been an explosion in greenhouse gases. At the turn of the 20th century, annual CO2 emissions were about 2 billion tonnes -- that's like filling 2 billion of the houses shown at the top of this article with carbon dioxide. Now, 120 years later, we are producing almost 20 times as much CO2 -- nearly 40 billion houses worth of carbon dioxide every year. To give you some perspective, that is about 500 times as many single family homes are there are in the United States (from Statista)!

It's Been 4 Million Years Since There Was This Much CO2

The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is now well above 400 ppm (parts per million). The last time there was this much carbon dioxide Earth was in the Pliocene Epoch. The average global temperature was about 6 degrees F warmer, ocean levels were more than 60 feet higher, and trees were growing at the South Pole.

Our Planet is Too Hot

This explosion of greenhouse gases has caused the climate of earth to warm to a perilous degree (graph from NASA's Earth Observatory). Since carbon dioxide comprises about three-quarters of our man-made greenhouse gases, it is crucial that we reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions now.

Are you ready to fight climate change?