Forest stock

CO2 levels have fluctuated over time but have been on an ominously upward trajectory in recent decades.

In January 2019, I published an article in the Herald about the troubling effects that rising CO2 levels are having on our atmosphere, and in turn, our environment. Specifically, I focused on the troubling changes in plant growth and pollen protein levels being seen among our flowering flora.

In this article, I want to look more closely at other consumers of carbon and the issues scientists are starting to uncover that are being attributed to the rise in CO2 levels. Before I begin, let’s take a moment to remember exactly what CO2 is.

Carbon dioxide is an important element of our atmosphere. It helps regulate the temperature of the planet, and it serves as an integral part of photosynthesis, the process by which plants produce energy. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has generally fluctuated throughout history, rising and falling due to changes in climate and the types of dominant organisms. Current levels are much higher than what we have found in samples of ancient ice dating back up to 800,000 years.

Forests are a large consumer of CO2 in the atmosphere, but some scientists are concerned that due to rising global temperatures and drier summers these plants will be unable to grow as fast as possible. This would make forests less effective at absorbing carbon dioxide than they normally are. Several industrious companies have taken this opportunity to step up and try to fill this gap in global CO2 absorption.

For example, a small European firm is hoping to make use of giant fans and special materials that act like CO2 sponges in order to siphon CO2 from the air and utilize it for purposes such as greenhouse growing or soda bottling. Manmade CO2 capture technologies appear to be costly and power-intensive, however as they become more refined perhaps they will help in reducing the amount of atmospheric CO2.

The soil itself is home to a decent amount of carbon dioxide, due to the fact that some micro-organisms sequester CO2 into specially designed proteins tucked away in any available nooks and crannies.

A significant amount of CO2 finds its way into the oceans as well. It is believed that around 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions end up in the ocean. Millions of tons of CO2 are absorbed by the ocean each day. These huge amounts of CO2 are starting to lead to extreme side effects, as increased carbon dioxide in the oceans make them more acidic. Scientists believe that our oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were 200 years ago. This is having some pretty strange impacts on sea life.

While some animals, like jellyfish, seem to thrive in waters with higher acidity, others are literally being burned alive by the recent influx. Studies have shown that the shells of some creatures are being eaten away by the increase in acidity, for example. Higher acidity also appears to change the behavior of young fish. Fish raised in environments with high acidity appear to move from the protection of darker waters into dangerous well-lit areas much faster in their development cycle than normal.

These fish also seemed to have a slower start in growth rates compared to those raised in waters with low acidity. The frightening truth is that we have little knowledge of the true effects that rising acidity will have on the oceans as a whole.

It is important to keep the impacts of rising atmospheric CO2 in mind as we take steps to slow the speed of emissions and seek to learn their effects on the world around us. Remember, you can learn more about your carbon footprint and ways to reduce it by visiting www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at brannen.basham@gmail.com.