Contrary to the current political movement to reduce "carbon emissions", the people of Earth should be endeavoring to re-cycle the waste carbon from previous eons. For many decades now, the highly ecologically minded people of the Earth have been doing a moderately good job of re-cycling old waste carbon. The ingeniously devised three-way symbiosis between oil companies, automobile manufacturers, and the citizens of the world has greatly enhanced mankind's ability to recapture the wasted carbon of the past.
Only a few decades ago, raw petroleum compounds could be found seeping to the surface of the Earth. Even today, the La Brea Tar Pits, and Santa Barbara county, in California USA, exhibit this phenomena, as well as many areas of the ocean floor. Some of the more seasoned readers may recall the opening credits of a television sitcom from the 1960's called the "Beverly Hillbillies". In this sequence, the patriarchal lead character shoots a bullet into the ground and, "up through the ground came a bubbling crude," as the theme song narrated. Although the bubbling part may have been an exaggeration, naturally occurring oil slicks did occur.
With the providential development of the automobile, and its demand for combustible liquids for power, oil companies began the greatest ecological remediation effort known to man. The oil companies pumped millions of barrels of crude oil out of the land, refined it, and then sold it to conscientious and productive citizens to use in their automobiles. The automobiles assisted the people of the world to advance technologically, and societally, in leaps and bounds; while all the time helping to clean up the environment and re-cycle the waste carbon of the world.
In light of the recent backward efforts to greatly limit, or even end this great endeavor, it would be wise for us to review the situation. We should remember the great ecological work that was begun, even centuries ago when coal was burned for heating and other useful purposes, by our wise and industrious ancestors.
All life, known to man, is "carbon based". Through a symbiotic life process, plants and animals circulate carbon, upon which they are based, between each other. This process is known as the "carbon cycle". The carbon cycle has been in operation from the time that both animals and plants began. Fortunately, the carbon in the ecosystem has constantly been recycled, with one exception. The fuels commonly used in automobiles, to heat homes, and consumed in industrial processes, are known as "fossil fuels". The source of the fuels reveals the exception to the carbon cycle rule.
Due to weather, geologic activity, and gravity, a small percentage of the ecosystem's organic (carbon containing) matter, is lost to the geologic strata of the Earth's crust. When plants and animals die, most of their remains are recycled, but a small amount of biomass ends up in a carbon "sink"; perhaps at the bottom of a body of water, where it is covered with sediment. The bio-material remains in these sinks until some human, or geologic, event occurs to release it. The time it takes for a fossil fuel to develop can be very long. The fuel we use today could have been a dinosaur of the past.
Although only a very small amount of material, compared with the total "biomass" of the world's ecosystem, is lost each year, this loss of carbon has been happening continuously for hundreds of millions of years. Consider that the time elapsed from the "Cambrian period" (an time recorded in the fossil record, during which occurred the "Cambrian explosion", when a exceedingly great diversity of organisms existed) has been roughly 500 million years. It has been 300 millions years since the "Carboniferous period" (a time when many coal beds appear to have been formed) when gigantic versions of certain creatures existed, perhaps due to the high atmospheric oxygen levels (despite also having much higher carbon dioxide [CO2] levels).
Even a relatively small loss of carbon, over hundreds of millions of years, could exhaust the ecosystem's carbon content. We see evidence of carbon loss in the expansive coal seams that are hundreds of feet thick, large oil fields that have been found all over the planet (and likely substantially more under the sea). It is likely that we currently have only a small amount of carbon in the ecosystem when compared to that of the verdant ecosystem of Earth's past. Contrary to the idea that carbon is a toxin, life on Earth thrived in those times, and it has sustained itself without interruption during the many hundreds of millions of years since then.
With such a massive amount of the essential element to life having been sequestered, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the Earth's ecosystem may be suffering from its current depleted state. It would make sense to conclude that if all the carbon in the ecosystem were removed from circulation, there could be no life on Earth. Likewise, from the fossil record, and the very fact that there is so much crude oil, coal, natural gas, etc. locked in the Earth's crust, it is obvious that the Earth supported a much larger biomass in the past. Connecting the dots, one can readily see that, of the two directions we can go, we should be moving (back) towards greater carbon content in the Earth's biosphere.
How can the carbon entombed in the Earth's crust be returned to the living biosphere? The most direct method is by oxidizing the carbon and introducing the resulting compound into the atmosphere as a gas. From the atmosphere, plants will naturally absorb the oxidized carbon through photosynthesis using sunlight. The carbon is incorporated into the plant, and thus, once again, part of the Earth's recirculating biomass. The chemical designation for the essential oxidized carbon gas is, "carbon dioxide", or "CO2". When a plant creates biomass from photosynthesis, it not only incorporates the CO2 , but also liberates oxygen from water that it has absorbed. As a result of the increase in carbon in the ecosystem, higher oxygen levels in the atmosphere could follow.
So how can mankind make a positive difference? There may be nothing we can do that is of any significance, since the biosphere is enormous, and we are only a small part of it. If we do have any effect, then there are a few things we should be trying to do. First, we can all take it upon ourselves to make our "carbon footprint" as large as possible. How can we do that? Drive our cars, or at least let them idle periodically. Drive cars that are clean burning (soot is not absorbed by plants). Take trips to the countryside for picnics, visit friends, skip the carpool and drive ourselves to work (preferably in slow traffic), and take a vacation in a foreign country (unfortunately commercial air travel is very efficient, but every little bit will help). If you don't have time for these activities consider buying a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), or truck. By driving a larger vehicle, you can recycle more carbon in less time. Also try buying goods made outside of the United States (since its industries are too energy/carbon efficient); a widget made in the US has a smaller carbon footprint than one made in other countries. For those of us that live in the US that has the added benefit of requiring the items we purchase to be shipped from another country and, therefore, more life giving carbon is liberated. We can also set our homes' thermostats to a comfortably high setting in the winter, and a comfortably cool setting in the summer. Leave some lights on around the house (it will also help to repel burglars for added safety), and use incandescent lights instead of the toxic Compact Florescent Lights (CFL).
Now is the best time for mankind to help the environment recover its past glory. It will not be long before nuclear, and other alternative power sources, will receive astronomical amounts of tax funded investment, and begin to edge out the efficient, low cost, and most symbiotic of energy sources: fossil fuels. We should fully utilize fossil fuel (which is a storehouse of solar energy that fell on the Earth millions of years ago) while we still can.
Mother Earth has shown her ability to sustain life for millions of years. Unfortunately, gravity may be too powerful even for Mother Earth. There are no microbes, insects, animals, or plants that are moving useful amounts of carbon from the fossil fuel reservoirs back into the ecosystem. Evolutionary forces have not created a species which can, through its natural life cycle, return carbon to the ecosystem, but, perhaps, if we try a little harder, and care a little more, we can help Mother Earth where she wasn't able to help herself. Together, we can help, "FREE THE DINOSAURS!"