Carbon dioxide has been in the headlines much lately, as our ways of measuring the levels have become more accurate and from different levels in the atmosphere. Many scientists have stated that our world is heating up and thus our weather will become more intense and harder to prepare for. Add to that, the levels of chemicals made by man. They made our lives easier and have been released into the atmosphere for decades and even though have been discontinued in use, are floating in the levels of our protection from UV-A and -B.
We have seen for centuries that burning fossil fuels (natural gas, heating oil, propane, kerosene and coal oil) and wood add to the carbon dioxide levels. Coal is used in America and for many centuries peat was used in Europe. Europe used to have vast tracts of forests. Over the centuries, people cut the trees down for housing and heating and in most cases, never replanted, as the land was needed for houses or agriculture. In America, the east and the west had trees and those in the east were cut for the same reasons as Europe and not replanted. In the Pacific Northwest, the loggers moved in and until some realized what was happening, decimated large swaths of forest all for building homes and heating them. The forests selectively cut were cut again when the remaining trees had reached the correct size. Many of the homes built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were built with old-growth wood that can never be replaced. The wood originally was 2x4, but now is 1.5x3.5 inches. Not as solid as the naturally grown trees, they still are the choice material for building houses and furniture.
In South America, the rain forests of Brazil and other countries are being cut down because the trees are now valuable for wood and the land for agriculture. The soil there is not conducive for growing crops and when the tilth is used up, the process is repeated again and again.
Why is this so important? Plant life takes in the carbon dioxide mammals exhale and use that in photosynthesis. The by-product of photosynthesis is oxygen production, which all the world above and for some, below the ocean needs. As the level of plants goes down, the level of carbon dioxide will go up. Eventually, the oxygen levels will go down if this continues. Depending on whether El Nino or La Nina are in control, the plankton grows and takes in carbon dioxide or dies and releases it into the atmosphere. Amber formed during the Earth's past actually shows a higher level of oxygen in the air. There were more plants growing then.
Enter the Carbon-Silicate Cycle. The mountains are full of rocks that weather and release carbon dioxide. Calcium and bicarbonate ions are carried into the ocean by running water where they become the sediment that is subducted under the continental crust, thus being worked into the arc of volcanoes. When the volcano erupts, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When it rains, the carbon is washed down into the soil, which is made into rocks or washed into the water.
All rocks made from carbon are weathered mechanically into smaller and smaller pieces and the smaller they become, the easier they end up as soil components. Chemical weathering contributes to mechanical weathering, but differs in that rainwater with it's slight acidity can break down the chemical bonds in rocks, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They oxidise, just like metal. Freezing water erodes the rocks, as do plant roots and animals. Wind and moving water do the most erosion, but rocks sitting in the sun day and after day will erode and release carbon dioxide.
How can we lower our level of carbon? I walk 99.9% of the time. I wear 100% cotton clothing 95% of the time. The electricity I use is produced by efficient burning of coal. The food I consume and products I purchase are trucked here with diesel and gasoline. I use soaps and detergents made from petroleum. Many of the items in my house are plastic, which is made from petroleum. Cotton takes a lot of irrigation to grow and then relies on chemicals and motorized harvesting. Same for the cotton thread I use. The zippers and buttons are nylon. My Teva sandals are man-made. So is the nylon windbreaker I use. I make bags of 100% cotton, but the purses I make have 100% polyester batting or interfacing. The rack I made for displaying my bags is wood, metal and PVC. My cellphone is plastic. Most of the computer is plastic. My quilting table and thread racks are made from wood which was harvested and processed with gasoline. The books I have were made from trees that were cut with power saws run on gasoline. The CDs and DVDs I have are plastic, as are the cases. My iron and ironing board cover are plastic and polyester.
I walk all over the town I live in and collect #1 and #2 plastic, metal and glass. I recycle that and computer towers and whatever else I can drag home, wash and sort into the boxes or bags I reuse every time I recycle. All in all, I live a simple life and do the best I can to be as carbon free as I can, but no matter what I do, I will generate it. We would have to go back to the 1880s and use no plants for heating. All solar or geothermal. No plastic components. See how hard this is?