What's up with Carbon?

To really understand the buzz about global warming and climate change, you need to know a little about carbon – a basic element.

What is it? You have probably seen carbon in its pure form as graphite or diamonds, and in its lesser-than-pure form as lumps of coal. It is non-metallic and the fourth most abundant element in the universe. Carbon is part of all living things- including people and plants- and is essential to life on earth. Without carbon, there would be no life as we know it. Carbon atoms combine freely with other elements. The carbon in plants ends up combining with hydrogen, oxygen and other elements to form the food we eat.

One of its forms is as carbon dioxide- a gas that has no color, so you can’t see it, and no odor, so you can’t smell it either. A carbon dioxide molecule is made up of one carbon atom (symbol = C) and two oxygen atoms (symbol = O). The “di” before oxide indicates two oxygen atoms. Therefore, carbon dioxide is represented by the chemical symbol CO2.

People, birds, and other animals breathe air, which is a combination of gases including carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen. As they inhale, their lungs take some of the oxygen from the air. They exhale the carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Plants and trees do the reverse. They use the carbon dioxide present in air to fuel their growth and give off oxygen, which makes them good to have around.