Carbon Dioxide

Standard Page - 2011-06-04
The primary human source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is from the burning of fossil fuels for energy production and transport. Another leading cause is deforestation, which is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes and boats combined.

The primary human source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is from the burning of fossil fuels for energy production and transport. Another leading cause is deforestation, which is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes and boats combined.

What are fossil fuels?

Oil, coal and natural gas are called fossil fuels because they are formed from the remains of plants and animals living millions of years ago. All fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons, and release carbon dioxide when burned.

Currently, fossil fuels are the primary source for almost the vast majority of the industrial world's energy. They are non-renewable resources that will eventually run out. However, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change, we need to switch to renewable energy sources as soon as possible, rather than waiting for oil wells to run dry.

Who does the most burning?

Industrialized nations have large economies that have burned fossil fuels for a long time – for this reason, they are responsible for most of the human-caused carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is the developing nations of Africa and Asia Pacific that will suffer the most from global climate change.

Sometime in 2007, China passed the US to become the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Most of China's CO2 comes from burning coal. Thus, reducing and eventually phasing out coal combustion is the most effective way to cut greenhouse gases, and replacing it with clean energy sources like wind and solar energy.

Deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions

Most CO2 emissions from deforestation stem from the destruction of tropical forests. While some forests are logged, many are simply burned to make room for industrial agriculture like cattle ranching and palm oil plantations – two leading causes of tropical deforestation. This burning emits massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Logging can also raise the risk of fire by drying out and heating up forests by removing trees that create shade and store moisture. In addition, logging activities – from the deliberate burning of leftover "slash," to accidental sparks from machinery – increase unnatural fires and CO2 emissions.

Learn more about deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions.

Learn more about climate science:

Carbon dioxide
Super greenhouse gases: F-gases
Deforestation and climate change
Scientific consensus on climate change
Climate research

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