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CO2 or Carbon Dioxide is a natural greenhouse gas; it commonly comes from the air that humans exhale.
Of the natural gases—methane, water vapor, ozone, nitrous oxide and halocarbons, carbon dioxide represents 82% of all greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere as a consequence of human activity. That’s a lot of scientific names to take in, but bottom-line: carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas mixed in the air that we ingest.
In its solid state, carbon dioxide is what people commonly call dry ice. Dry ice is usually used to make volcano science projects seem like it’s smoking. It’s also used for stage plays to replicate fog. It’s untouchable at -78.5°, if skin makes contact with it, the skin can severely burn. The difference between ice and dry ice is that when dry ice is exposed to air, it immediately sublimes from solid to gas; compared to normal ice which turns to liquid first before evaporating.
The most important purpose of carbon dioxide is it serves as plant food.
Plants eat CO2, animals eat plants, some of us eat animals and some just eat plants. Either way, there’s no argument that plants are necessary for human survival. It’s the bottom of the food chain, without which, human life would be unsustainable.
Through photosynthesis--a process which basically means that the plants take in the carbon dioxide and in turn, release oxygen in the atmosphere to take its place—the Earth maintains balance. However, due to deforestation and the inequality of the oversupply of CO2 vis-a-vis the scarcity of plants that are supposed to intake them, the balance has been disrupted and the excess CO2 are causing global problems. Plants cannot clean the air at the rate that we are currently polluting it.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat, making the planet warmer.
The “greenhouse effect” is the process by which CO2 gas keeps heat. Because CO2 is nearly transparent to radiation coming from the sun, but a bit opaque to the thermal radiation released by the Earth, the effect is: the sun’s radiation passes through it and warms the Earth. Similarly, the Earth emits some of this energy upwards, towards space, as longer wavelength or thermal radiation. Some of this is absorbed and re-radiated by the CO2 molecules in the atmosphere back towards the surface, adding more heat energy. Absent water vapor, CO2 and other gases, the Earth’s average temperature would be 34°C colder than what we have now.
In simpler terms, the Greenhouse effect works like the gases in the atmosphere are like millions of one-way mirrors facing the Earth. The sun’s radiation pierces through, reaching the surfaces we walk in. However, the Earth’s radiation only bounces back because the mirror is facing this way and we’re looking at a very unpleasant reflection right now.
Unfortunately, the rise in CO2 emissions is the leading cause of global warming. While it is safe in small quantities, it is however, toxic when too much is present in the environment. In 2017, CO2 levels as well as methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have reached an 800,000 year high.
Natural sources are events which do not rely on human intervention or those which naturally occur such as respiration, decomposition, volcanic eruptions and bodies of water inherently releasing CO2. Human sources, on the other hand, are those coming from human activity like burning of fossil fuels including oil, coal, and natural gas.
Based on a 2015 study, the United States and China are the two largest emitters of CO2 in the world. Together, they make up 43% of the total emissions in the world. 7% more and they equal the rest of the world’s emissions combined! Since China and the United States are the first and third most populated countries respectively, they produce more, but also have more people in danger of being affected by the repercussions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, greenhouse gas emissions come mostly from burning fossil fuels for transportation and energy. Because 90% of the fuel used for cars, trains, ships, and airplanes are petroleum-based, they burn gasoline or diesel on every trip. On the other hand, 68% of electricity comes from burning coal and natural gas. Most lawn mowers run on electricity, battery, or fuel.
Electric lawn mowers, however more efficient they may seem, still run on electricity, which also comes from burning coal and natural gas.
According to the EPA, a new gas-powered lawn mower emits air pollution in one hour of operation as 11 new cars being driven for the same amount of time.
And that’s even new! The ancient ones using technology from the distant past and those which aren’t maintained emit 20-30% of the gases UNBURNT, which is more dangerous to the environment than the by-product.
A single gas mower busts 88 lbs of greenhouse gases annually; if we multiply that to the approximate 54 million people mowing their grass on weekends, it’s astonishing that we can still breathe fresh air. And get this: Americans use up about 800 million gallons of gas a year for lawn mowers alone! That’s a lot of greenhouse gas those machines are releasing into the air WE breathe!
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Answer: a NO mower!
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High levels of CO2 are dangerous as well to human health. It can cause headaches, restlessness, drowsiness, low productivity and infectious disease transmission. Extreme levels can cause excessive sweating, increased heart rate and difficulty breathing. Also, that uncomfortable “stale air” feeling that we get in a recently occupied, or crowded room? That’s high CO2 creeping down our lungs.
Increased presence of CO2 also impedes learning, negatively affects performance of tasks, and increases the difficulty of making decisions. It corrodes mental faculties and weakens thought; it should be a high priority to avoid CO2 emitting materials as much as possible, not only for our physical well-being, but also for our mental health. When too much CO2 is fleeting indoors, it could impair cognitive functions; the problem is that the air coming inside houses are from outside. Without proper ventilation, the air we breathe inside our own homes can end up weakening our brainpowers.
It's time to switch to more sustainable options.
On a larger scale, augmented CO2 affects the entire world.
Its abnormal manifestation contributes largely to the greenhouse effect—trapping radiation on the ground, creating ozone which should not be there. This warms up our global waters; making it more difficult for these waters to absorb carbon dioxide, leaving the gas floating around for us to ingest. Too much CO2 is also to blame for climate change. The Earth’s temperature has risen over the last 100 years and carbon dioxide pollution is the primary reason.
When CO2 emissions from combustion of fossil fuels combine with moisture in the air, it results to high acid precipitation. This is known as Acid Rain. When acid rain comes in contact with trees and plants, physical damage results. Since this precipitation is in the air, it spreads like wildfire even on areas far from the vicinity of the source. Think of it like an airborne epidemic that affects mostly trees and plants—the bottom of our food chain, which we all need in order to live.
Acid rain indirectly upsets the human body too. It is linked to lung problems like pneumonia and emphysema. Because it’s in the air we ingest, the chemicals infiltrate our bodies and our lungs slowly deteriorate from the toxins. Under the sea, CO2 affects marine life, too. Carbon dioxide emissions reaching bodies of water either through the air or directly from source result in “ocean acidification.” In 1950, the acidity of oceans has reached its maximum in over 650,000 years. In 2013, they are found to be 30% more acidic than they were in 1950. Which only means that from 1950 to 2013, humans of these generations have exposed more CO2 to the ocean than everyone else had for 650,000 years.
Calcifying species, those marine species which use hard material for protection such as sea urchins, clams, mussels, barnacles, planktons and corals rely on water pH levels to survive. The high acidity of the water makes it difficult for them to build their calcium structures such as shells, coral reefs and exoskeletons. These are vital for the survival of marine life, for shelter, for food and for protection against erosion and storms. Sensitive species, when exposed to acidification caused by CO2, can become extinct due to the phenomenon.
Phytoplankton, the marine species responsible for most transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean, can cause either life or death to sea creatures. These species are individually invisible to the naked eye, but when they clump together, they can be seen and this event is known as an algae or algal bloom. They differ in colors from green to red.
Red algae bloom is what we commonly know as red tide. Because of climate change and global warming, more algae blooms happen. The temperatures of waters become warmer, ergo, more hospitable to toxic algae and they become very difficult to control. These algae are eaten by marine animals, some even by endangered species, and becomes toxic to the ecosystem they are present in.
When phytoplankton die, they sink to the ocean floor and decompose. This results to death of other organisms, shellfish, fish and crabs. All of these are worsened by global warming, which is caused by superfluous CO2 in the atmosphere. So next time you want to gas up your mower, think of the fishes! The switch to a more sustainable lifestyle is imperative if we want our world to survive; and the choices we make in our daily lives shape both our present and future. We care for the environment as it provides for us, and there is no better way to thank it than to make it a priority to invest on things which are both beneficial to the Earth and to ourselves.
CO2 is used to make our drinks fizz. Drinks like beer, champagne, sodas and sparkling water.
It is also the main component that makes up Pop Rocks, a brand of candy which, when eaten, dissolves in the mouth with audible pops. Liquid CO2 is used as well to decaffeinate coffee beans.
Life vests, metals, fire extinguishers, aluminum capsules for paintball and air guns; most pressurized gas consumer products contain CO2 because it is inexpensive and nonflammable. And because it transitions from gas to liquid at room temperature with easily attainable pressure, more CO2 can fit in a given container than other gases, thus it is more preferred by industries that produce compressed materials.
Carbon dioxide is not inherently a bad thing, but too much of it in the atmosphere can cause a disproportion affecting our world in the most extreme ways. Our actions cause its abundance which sets off a chain reaction: a cycle that ultimately results in upsetting the natural balance of the Earth, causing it to decline faster. This decline affects and messes up ecosystems that we, as humans, count on for food and sustenance. The more we produce carbon dioxide, the faster this cycle catches up to us.
A few more generations and all the excess carbon dioxide will cause DIEoxides more than we can ever imagine.