Some things are worth repeating

Rebalancing our Carbon Cycle: A graphic for your fridge

This Green Ideas is from four years ago, but its message is so fundamental to solving climate change I think it’s worth sharing again.

This graphic is worth sharing, and printing and placing onto your fridge because it shows, very clearly and simply, the global carbon cycle that regulates our climate – a cycle humanity has knocked out of balance.

Graphic: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Carbon is a very mobile element, moving mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, or CO2.  It goes up into the air continuously when living things exhale, when anything organic decomposes or when anything is burned.  It is absorbed from the air continuously by plants (mainly trees) and ocean plankton (single-celled plants that are the basis of ocean food chains).

Through most of human existence on Earth, the carbon cycle was roughly in balance (IE the same amount going up as coming down) – but it’s not anymore.  Since the industrial revolution, we’ve been digging up carbon-laden oil, coal and natural gas that were safely stored underground for millions of years, and burning it in vehicle engines, airplanes, power plants and more.  The result: way more carbon going up.  On the other side of the cycle, the plants of the world, impaired by human activities such as deforestation, haven’t been able to keep up.  The result: less carbon coming down.

The net result of both trends: the level of CO2 in our atmosphere has risen from 275 parts per million (PPM) at the start of the industrial revolution to 418 PPM today.  (It was 412 in March 2019, when I first circulated this graphic.)  That excess CO2 is causing global warming and climate change.

So the solution to climate change comes down to one very simple goal: rebalancing the carbon cycle, so the same amount is absorbed as emitted.  Every action that reduces the amount going up (IE burning less fossil fuels) or increases the amount coming down (IE planting a tree) brings us closer to that goal.

That’s why this graphic is worth sharing, but also printing and placing on your fridge, so you see it every day and contemplate all the ways you – we – can help rebalance the carbon cycle. (And, for a deeper dive, check out Project Drawdown, which details 80 solutions for removing some of that excess CO2 already up there.)

In the news:

New studies conclude climate change will raise UK’s flood damage bill by 20% and will cost Germany up to 900 billion euros by 2050.

From the International Institute for Sustainable Development, some facts and clarity on why carbon capture and storage – so promoted by the fossil fuel industry, which is seeking billions in subsidies – is not a solution at all. A nice explanation of why we don’t need miracle technologies to solve climate change when we already have WWS.


“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

        – Nicholas Kristof, Author & Journalist

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