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If one thinks of the earth as an enormous living organism, then the breath of that great beast is carbon dioxide effects. Astronomers estimate that when the planet was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago, the sun was a quarter to a third cooler than it is now. On the earth as it is today, such a drop in solar-heat output would probably wipe out all life.

Fortunately, the early atmosphere contained a far greater percentage of CARBON DIOXIDE effects is today. Spewing from the volcanoes and primordial fires that raged as the earth formed, these great clouds of CARBON DIOXIDE effects created an intense greenhouse effect that kept the planet warm enough to engender the first organisms. As the earliest algae eventually evolved into vast forests of complex plants, CARBON DIOXIDE was drawn out of the air through photosynthesis—leaving the world with a greener landscape and a milder greenhouse effect.

Today the earth's atmosphere contains only 353 parts per million of CARBON DIOXIDE effects. But that amount has risen by 38 parts since the 1950s. To understand why these numbers are so crucial and why scientists are so concerned about the steady rise of CARBON DIOXIDE effects over this century, one has to understand CARBON DIOXIDE's effects positive role in the greenhouse effect as well as its negative role in global warming.

When they were first formed, Venus, Mars, and Earth each had nearly identical amounts of carbon, but the three planets have stored their carbon in different ways. On Earth, carbon is the basic building block of life. As the binding element of every organic compound, it winds through the DNA in human chromosomes, the protein in skin, and the blades of grass in a park. This carbon, which seems so fixed and stable, is constantly being reused and reconfigured. Plants draw CARBON DIOXIDE into their leaves, transforming the carbon into fruits and more leaves; animals and human beings eat the leaves and fruits, reabsorbing the carbon

into their body; eventually they die and decompose, returning some of that carbon to the ground and some back to the atmosphere.

This carbon cycle ties together the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the geosphere. The atmosphere contains only about two-fifths as much carbon as does the biosphere and about one-fiftieth as much as the oceans, but enough carbon passes through the atmosphere to make CARBON DIOXIDE effect the second most important greenhouse gas after water vapor. There is just enough CARBON DIOXIDE effects to keep people alive without frying them to a crisp. Venus and Mars, on the other hand, have kept their carbon under much stable conditions. Nearly all of the carbon on Venus is suspended in the atmosphere—about 350,000 times more carbon per gallon of air than on Earth. This thick soup of CARBON DIOXIDE bakes the planet with intense heat. Mars, on the other hand, is too frigid for carbon to stay up in the air. Most of the red planet's CARBON DIOXIDE lies frozen as dry ice at the planet's poles leaving a very weak greenhouse effect that makes even the sunniest spots colder than Antarctica.

If the earth's unique carbon cycle keeps people alive, it also leaves them extraordinarily vulnerable. CARBON DIOXIDE, more than any other gas, is directly tied to the lives and actions of human beings. If the world's populations grow, if people continue to build factories, if they burn or cut down forests, if they drive rather than walk to work, they create CARBON DIOXIDE. Every decision a person makes inevitably affects how much CARBON DIOXIDE is spewed into the atmosphere and how the greenhouse effect evolves. Consequently, CARBON DIOXIDE has become the primary focus of plans to curb global warming in the future. The ability to regulate how and when this gas is produced will determine whether it sustains or endangers future civilizations.
CARBON DIOXIDE was first discovered in the 17th century, by Flemish alchemist Johann Baptista Van Helmont. For the next 200 years, scientists attempted to trace the sources of CARBON DIOXIDE and its concentration in various areas. Eventually, a rough outline of CARBON DIOXIDE'S origins emerged: Humans, animals, and plants breathed it out; plants breathed it in; burning wood, paper, oil, and coal released it into the air; and smokestacks belched it into the sky in great blasts.

Until the 20th century, CARBON DIOXIDE was mainly of interest to scientists. It existed only in trace quantities in the atmosphere—about 300 parts per million and seemed harmless to human beings. It was not until Svante Arhenius, at the turn of the century, finally connected CARBON DIOXIDE to the greenhouse effect that CARBON DIOXIDE suddenly took on larger significance, and even then to only a few visionary minds. If CARBON DIOXIDE is a greenhouse gas, Arhenius reasoned in the April 1896 issue of London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine, then increasing the level of CARBON DIOXIDE effects in the air must bring about a "change in the transparency of the world”.

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