Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Sometimes a surplus, no matter how good it looks, feels or tastes, can be detrimental to our future happiness and well-being. Children love candy, for instance, but too much candy leads to a life of fatigue, obesity and diabetes.
Our Earth is presently indulging itself in the pleasures of carbon dioxide. Like an addict sniffing glue, the planet is “getting high” off CO2 emissions and, as a result, is looking greener than ever. Over the last 35 years, more than half of the Earth’s landscapes have become greener in color due to increased carbon dioxide in our ailing atmosphere.
According to a study published in Nature Climate Change last April, the process involves heightened rates of photosynthesis. Leaves and plants take their energy from the sun and combine carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with water and nutrients from the ground. The plants then produce sugars, which are stored and consumed at a future time in order to sustain fuel. The growing levels of carbon dioxide in the air have actually caused photosynthesis to move faster in plants, giving them a look that would make a leprechaun jealous. Other aspects contributing to the “growing green” include changes in cover and climate, precipitation and sunlight, that have taken place over the last 25 years.
Nitrogen is also playing a role. As stated by author and Boston University professor Ranga Myneni, “The second most important driver is nitrogen, at nine percent. So we see what an outsized role CO2 plays in this process.”
The planet enjoys flaunting its “pretty new dress,” but the big question regards what such a dress actually costs. Sure, the Earth is looking good right now, but an increase in CO2 will have dire consequences for human lives later down the line.
Excessive amounts of carbon dioxide are major contributors to chronic disease. Things start out small, such as constriction of bronchi and bronchioles (which ultimately affect our ability to maintain air and breathe deeply), but they sure don’t stop there. Slower blood flow and fewer oxygen cells in the capillaries are common, which in turn affect our arteries and vital organs. Other noted side effects (usually from extreme exposure) include kidney calcification, bone loss, mental slowness and even suffocation.
The Earth will also suffer from its plethora of CO2. Right now, excess absorption of carbon by the oceans is increasing the level of ocean acidification, which has led to massive coral bleaching and the destruction of marine ecosystems. On land, the greening effect of carbon dioxide will gradually be overtaken by the ravages of global warming. Researchers have warned that a carbon-saturated atmosphere will contribute to higher instances of droughts and wildfires.
We must take note of what can be done to reverse further damage. From telecommuting to investing in green energy to buying local produce and eating less red meat, opportunities abound that can keep our planet both “looking good and feeling good.”