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Carbon cycle
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Increasing use of fossil fuel

Since the start of the industrial era (ca 1750), increasing amounts of energy have been required to undertake work which might have previously been undertaken by humans beings themselves. A product of the combustion process involving fossil fuels is the production of carbon dioxide which, being lighter than air is congregating in the upper atmosphere. As our rate of consuming fossil fuels is still increasing, ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are being recorded in the upper atmosphere (Figure 1).

fossil fuel
Figure 1: Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since 1750 [ACE, MMU]

The more recent concentrations of carbon dioxide are being monitored continuously at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii and these measurements are illustrated in Figure 2. The concentration of CO2 is steadily increasing even though significant efforts have been made since the 1997 Kyoto agreement to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Figure 2: CO2 Concentration at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii [Scripps CO2 program]

The consequence is that ever larger amounts of solar radiation are being absorbed and not reflected back into space so resulting in global warming.

If the average increase in world temperature is not to exceed 1.5 ºC then the CO2 concentration in the upper atmosphere should not exceed 430 parts per million. To stay within this limit will require actions NOW to limit our use of energy particularly that of fossil fuels.



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