Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere provides the primary source of carbon for growing plant life on earth; from the smallest microalgae in the oceans to the largest trees on land. Carbon dioxide—CO2—is an essential part of the cycle of life. Without a source of CO2, plants will die off, and without plant life the earth’s biological food chain would be terminally broken.
The carbon found in biomass is taken out of the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis which causes the plant grow.
Nature’s Carbon Sponge
Photosynthesis is a natural biochemical process that occurs within all plant life, from the largest trees to the smallest microscopic phytoplankton (microalgae), which enables the plants to use solar energy (sunshine) directly to grow new plant matter (biomass) by converting carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrate plus oxygen. The name carbohydrate means “hydrate of carbon” or carbon with attached water molecules.
Photosynthesis uses the energy (photons) from the sun’s rays to split carbon dioxide (taken from the atmosphere) into carbon and oxygen, releasing oxygen back to the atmosphere. The photosynthesis process then combines the carbon atoms with water molecules (taken up through the plant’s roots, or absorbed directly by aquatic plants) creating new carbohydrate molecules in the form of simple sugars such as glucose. Inside the plant’s cells, the simple sugars can then be converted into all of the other molecules within the plant: starch, fats, proteins, enzymes, etc. All plant matter is ultimately produced as a result of the photosynthesis reaction.
With few exceptions, carbon that is extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthesis eventually returns to the atmosphere through various pathways, such as: plant-respiration, or when plants and the animals that eat them die and decay, or through the decomposition of animal and human excrement, or when biomass is burned (combustion). The carbon returns to the atmosphere as CO2, either immediately, as with plant-respiration and combustion, or gradually over time through decay and methane oxidation. In these examples, carbon that was released from plant matter has recombined with oxygen creating carbon dioxide which then becomes available in the atmosphere for new plant growth—completing the cycle of life.
Giving the EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions, or the carbon content in fuel, is like giving the FDA authority to regulate calories in food. Should the FDA be given authority to impose and enforce a Low Calorie Food Standard (LCFS)? It could be argued that obesity and related diseases would be prevented by such law-enforcement. But, Calories are not poison… and CO2 is not pollution. Calories are necessary for good health, and CO2 is necessary for plant life. Mercury, lead and sulfur in the atmosphere are pollutants — CO2 is not a pollutant.
Too much CO2 in the atmosphere can hurt our planet, just as obesity can hurt our bodies. Should the federal government impose a “Cap-and-Trade” on food calories? Would that reduce obesity? It would not be possible to prevent cheating; a police state would be required to enforce it. Obesity is caused by an imbalance between calories consumed and calories burned. The only way to cure obesity is to either eat fewer calories or exercise more, and preferably both. The same principle can be applied to the imbalance of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The Cap-and-Trade systems that have been proposed for carbon emissions will not extract carbon from the atmosphere. Caps are the equivalent of a reduced calorie diet. In contrast, extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere will shift the atmospheric CO2 balance toward carbon neutral, analogous to using exercise for maintaining ideal body weight.