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 Task ACT 40-1: THE PROBLEM WITH CARBON EMISSIONS • Due Date: 2/3/2004

Carbon (C) is the fourth most abundant element in the Universe. After hydrogen (H), helium (He), and oxygen (O), carbon is the building block of life. It's the element that anchors all organic substances, from fossil fuels to DNA.

On Earth, carbon cycles through the land, ocean, atmosphere, and the Earth's interior in a major biogeochemical cycle. Carbon even cycles through our bodies. Nearly 50% of the dry weight of our bodies consists of carbon. Carbon is in the food we eat, the water we drink, and air we breathe.

Carbon is a good thing! But too much of a good thing can be bad! Scientists are observing a dramatic increase of carbon levels in the atmosphere due to the dramatic increase in the consumption of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and is the major greenhouse gas released to the atmosphere. The continued release of greenhouse gases traps heat in the atmosphere, threatens to raise the temperature of the earth, disrupts the climates we and our agricultural systems depend on, raises sea-levels, and impacts the delicate balance of the Earth's dynamic ecosystems.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already increased by about 30% since the start of the industrial revolution sometime around the middle of the 19th century and will continue to increase unless societies, and individual members of societies, choose to change their ways. One change that each of us must make is to burn less fossil fuels as a result of our daily human activities.

The term "anthropogenic" is used to describe the release of carbon into the atmosphere by humans. Can we individually and collectively reduce our anthropogenic behavior? How can we measure our anthropogenic behavior? How can we reduce our fossil fuel consumption? How much carbon emissions do each of us (per capital) release into the atmosphere? How does our individual consumption of fossil fuels compare to others in the world? What steps can each of us take to reduce our personal contribution to the disruption of the World climate? What steps can we take together to address this problem in our homes, communities, and nations?

These are a few key questions that we will try to answer both individually and collectively in the next several weeks as we learn about the carbon in our atmosphere and how we contribute to global climate change. We will compare our own contribution to carbon emissions with students from another country. And, we will explore what we can individually and collectively do about this critical global problem as we research ways to change that behavior.

Review these Learning Links:

Carbon as a basic element:
Carbon and global warming:


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