CARBON FOOTPRINT


Carbon pollution is harmful to human health and causes global warming.

Jeff Merkley

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We learn from basic science that there can be no life such as we know without carbon. Carbon is present in practically every molecule that makes life (organisms) possible. The study of chemicals with carbon came to be called organic chemistry.

In the 1970s physicists discovered that had it not been for the specific values of what are called fundamental constants, many features of the world would be very different: For example, much helium, not enough hydrogen, very little, if any, carbon in the universe. The slightest difference in the values of the basic parameters structuring our universe would have prevented the formation of the element carbon, hence of life as we know it.

Ironically, in a very different way, the same carbon can also spell the death-knell for human life on earth. This is because it is one thing for nature to manufacture life with carbon, but an entirely different thing for life-forms to spill carbon indiscriminately into nature. It is analogous to this: It is one thing for people to deposit money in the bank, and an entirely different thing for banks to be giving money to people.

Carbon in sugar and protein is helpful, but the same element in carbon monoxide (CO) can be toxic, and as dioxide (CO-2) it can be helpful or harmful in the earth’s atmosphere, depending on how much of it is present. Many things that we routinely we do, such as exhaling, burning wood and coal, driving cars and flying planes,  add to the CO-2 in the atmosphere. For eons  this  gas has been in the atmosphere in the right amount  to absorb the heat radiation that is  reflected back by earth from the sunlight it is continuously receiving. This amount is just right to  absorb  the reflected heat energy to sustain life within  the appropriate range of  temperatures.

In this balance of nature, the green of the earth (plants and trees) have also been doing their share in absorbing significant amounts of carbon dioxide. By what can only be described as a wonder of wonders, for millions of years natural processes have been maintaining the critical balance that allows earthlings to produce, propagate, and keep enjoying this inexplicable vehicle for experiencing the universe that we call life.

Human beings are clever, but not always smart enough to access the long-range effects of our ingenuity. It turns out that most of the inventions and activities  associated with the industrial and technological revolutions have contributed considerably to reducing  muscular efforts and enhancing creature comforts; but they have also been pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Every entity: individuals, groups, industries, and smokestacks, serves to produce   more than a reasonable share of this gas.

Thus, every one of us, separately and collectively, individually and industrially leaves a carbon-dioxide impact on the environment. It is difficult to be precise about the quantities involved, but one can roughly estimate how much CO-2 and methane our activities and consumptions release. Defined as our carbon footprint, this is a poetic way of describing our contribution to environmental damage, as also a quantitative measure of the gradual degradation of the environment that results from our activities.

When we take a hot water shower, when we consume meat, when we use the electric fan, and when we fly in a plane we are unwittingly adding in a small measure or grandly to our own carbon footprint. Every energy consumption is an addition to this. The large-scale culprits in this regard include the coal industry, factories, huge burnings (like forest-fires), and efflux  from billions of automobiles.

How ironic that carbon, an invisible source of all life, has also the potential for destroying of all life! In the twenty-first century the term carbon footprint serves as an index of one’s slow and subtle role in the pollution of the atmosphere, causing perilous changes in the weather patterns of the world. The term has also become a symbol for individual and national guilt for consuming energy in the modern world.

Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

Categories 21st Century Terms, UncategorizedLeave a comment

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