Thursday, February 23, 2012

Carbon and human survival

Carbon is the backbone of an organic life on earth. Every life from the smallest microorganism to human beings is made up of carbon. A cycle called ‘carbon cycle’ that decomposes carbon into carbon dioxide which is used to synthesis Carbohydrates by the process known as ‘photosynthesis’ in presence of water and sunlight, as described in the following equation: 6 CO2 + 6H2O + sunlight → C6H12O6 + 6O2 The oxygen generated during the above process and carbohydrates sustains life of animals and microorganism on earth. These lives consume oxygen and carbohydrates and releases Carbon dioxide by respiration into the atmosphere. The released carbon dioxide breaks down carbohydrates and other organic matters and regenerates carbon dioxide for reuse by animals and other lives. Not all organic matters are decomposed and part of it is stored as carbon biomass in the roots of plants and other organic matters and buried under earth. After millions of years these organic matters turns into fossil fuels under pressure and at elevated temperature. Carbon is distributed on earth, in water and in atmosphere. Due to increase in population and industrial growth over several decades the carbon dioxide increased gradually in soil, water and atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is also released by natural events like volcanic eruptions. But the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased rapidly after industrialisation, when industries unearthed buried fossil fuels and burnt. In fact we are burning carbon at a faster rate than it is regenerated. It is purely man-made and it increases the presence of carbon dioxide both in atmosphere as well as in oceans. The rapid increase of green house emission started 240 years ago when industrial revolution started. The consequences of this unabated greenhouse gases due to combustion has caused ‘global warming’ with many consequences. As I have mentioned in my previous articles, power generation and transportation are the two major industries that emit bulk of the greenhouse emission. Both industries use age-old technologies of combustion. The world has been complacent about fossil fuels and grossly indifferent to industrial pollution for decades. Global warming is looming as the biggest threat of the twenty first century, yet we are not acting. Politicians deny global warming and they want to carry on the business as usual, at the peril of the future generations. Powerful countries like US, China and India are reluctant to pass a unanimous resolution to set target for carbon emission, while smaller nations remain as powerless onlookers. These powerful nations can drag the rest of the world with them to face the wrath of the Mother Nature with disastrous consequences for their inaction. It is quite obvious that world have no choice but switch to cleaner energy sources and leave the fossil fuels buried deep under the earth. A new paradigm shift in the way we generate energy and use them is the key for the survival of mankind. We need to develop Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source and Government should encourage innovations in such technologies, while they simultaneously price carbon. In the absence of a concrete legislation and mechanism to penalise polluters, industrie will continue to use fossil fuels. A simple cost benefit analysis will indicate that taxing on polluters and simultaneously introducing renewable technologies will benefit the world in the long run.