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We’ve all heard this claim before: carbon dioxide causes global warming by trapping heat, causing irreversible changes to the atmosphere. Experts tell us to practice sustainability by minimizing our carbon footprint; however, we should ask ourselves: is carbon dioxide truly the Earth’s enemy?

Carbon dioxide makes up a small portion of our atmosphere, so how bad can it be? Is it a villain or a misunderstood hero?

What is Carbon Dioxide?

Carbon dioxide or CO2 is a natural greenhouse gas with one part carbon and two parts oxygen. It is a colorless gas with a faint odor and sharp taste.

This gas comes from two sources: natural and human. Natural sources include decomposition, ocean release, and respiration. Meanwhile, human sources include fossil fuels, cement production, and deforestation.

What Makes Carbon Dioxide a Villain?

Many people today blame carbon dioxide for the increase in our planet’s global average temperature (GAT). Historically, our GAT constantly moves up and down in a cycle, sometimes experiencing equilibrium for prolonged periods.

For 1,750 years, our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration was stable. However, it started rising 250 years ago and continues to do so to this date. Today, carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been for the past 800,000 years.

With the present CO2 concentration in our atmosphere reaching 420 PPM, the ability of our atmosphere to trap more heat become amplified. This has demonized CO2.

What Makes Carbon Dioxide a Hero?

Carbon dioxide is a crucial part of the environment with 98% of the gas present in oceans, plants, and soils. The remaining 2% remains in the atmosphere — 57% of that amount coming from natural sources. The horror stories about carbon dioxide can make anyone shudder, but let’s look at the many roles it plays for the Earth:

Respiration: Carbon dioxide is essential for respiration in the human body, as well as in other animals. We cannot survive without it.

The greenhouse effect: Carbon dioxide contains carbon, a greenhouse gas that helps the Earth hold energy from the sun. Without this essential gas, our oceans will freeze.

Plant growth: Apart from providing sustenance, higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere make plants more productive. This greenhouse gas supercharges the photosynthesis process.

Daily use: We use carbon dioxide for a diverse selection of applications, from fire extinguishers to soda and baking powder.

The Verdict

The property that makes it infamous — its ability to trap heat — is the reason why there is life here on Earth. Instead of demonizing this essential gas, we should find ways to make sustainable changes in our lives to protect our planet. After all, carbon dioxide is here to stay.

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