Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it will contribute to additional absorption and emission of thermal infrared in the atmosphere, which could contribute to net warming. In fact, according to Assessment Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are responsible for the greenhouse effect. Basically, these gases absorb incoming solar radiation from the sun that would otherwise be reflected back to outer space by the earth’s surface. The greenhouse effect is crucial to life on earth as we know it; without it, the average temperature would be much much lower. However, in recent years, anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide has elevated the greenhouse effect well past natural levels, which is responsible for global warming. Global warming is highly detrimental to many species of plants and animals and could prove catastrophically damaging if left unrestrained.
Although it is a main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is also a vital and integral part of the carbon cycle. Without carbon dioxide, plants would not be able to perform respiration, which means they wouldn’t be able to produce the vital carbohydrates they need to undergo photosynthesis. Without these sugars, plants wouldn’t be able to produce oxygen. The harm of carbon dioxide is when it is a by-product of our fossil fuel burning. But as part of the carbon cycle, we would not to be able to survive with it.
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