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carbon dioxide

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an odorless, non-flammable gas composed of one atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen.

Carbon dioxide is the bi-product of the combustion of fossil fuels and also of almost all living cellular respiration. (The only known exception is deep sea volcanic vent chemosynthesizing bacteria.) The cellular respiration of plants occurs in night cycle, when they burn off the energy produced in photosynthesis.

Among greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide is the main driving force of the greenhouse effect, due not only to its abundance in the environment but also to its interaction with methane. When methane comes in contact with carbon dioxide, it strips one of CO2’s oxygen molecules, leaving a single molecule of carbon monoxide, which then reacts with ozone to destroy it. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also has the effect of acidifying the ocean as it dissolves in water to form carbonic acid.

CO2’s environmental impact is behind the increasing drive for countries, businesses and even individuals to reduce their carbon footprints, sometimes with a goal of becoming carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative. To achieve these aims, strive to balance and offset the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by their activities.

This was last updated in December 2013

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