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Friday, May 1, 2015

Long and Short Carbon Cycles

Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.
Burning carbon-based fuels that produce CO2 is not in and of itself a bad thing. It is not inherently a detrimental process for our environment or a net produced of greenhouse gases. The difference in a 'good' process and a 'bad' process is just where the carbon comes from.

Biological processes of photosynthesis sequester carbon in plant material that is withdrawn from the atmosphere. An acre of corn or wheat does it in one year. A tree does it in a couple of decades. Our human bodies do it in a life-expectancy of about 76 years. On the other hand entire forests that have been left unattended for millenniums will sequester carbon over millions of years. The removal of the carbon was good and planet Earth cooled to the pleasant level it is today.

The three Fires of Life: metabolism, rust and fire, all release carbon that has been tied up in the molecules of proteins, amino acids and the cellular strings of life. The amount of carbon released by one of these fires is not dependent on the speed of the process, only on the amount of carbon available.

You can burn a tree to heat a house and return the tree's carbon to the environment within the same century that it was removed. You can burn wheat or corn and return the carbon from earlier in the same year.

The problem arises when you burn coal and natural gas that contains carbon that was removed from the environment over a period of millions of years. What took millions of years to remove, we have been putting back in less than a century. Whereas burning the fossil fuels adds huge quantities of carbon to the surface of the Earth an its atmosphere, burning present-day biomass adds ZERO carbon.

As yet, the processes may not be the most efficient nor the most cost effective, but they don't degrade the atmosphere as does any form of fossil fuel, no matter how "Clean" and "Green" it claims to be. It's the carbon that makes it dirty.
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