The carbon cycle: How it works and why it’s important

Carbon is the backbone of life on Earth and is naturally regulated by the carbon cycle. But as humans release more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, the carbon cycle becomes overloaded. The good news? Each and every one of us can help nature rebalance.

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and it’s the foundation of all life on Earth. It’s a natural part of our oceans, plants, animals, soil, and rocks, and we even exhale it every day. And importantly, it’s part of our atmosphere, where in the form of CO2 it functions as a greenhouse gas, regulating earth's temperature.

What is the carbon cycle?

The carbon cycle describes the constant exchange of carbon across all these different so-called “carbon reservoirs” or "carbon sinks." For example, carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed by plants through photosynthesis, where it enters the food chain. As plants and animals die, the carbon they were storing gets released back into the atmosphere and the cycle continues. 

Left undisturbed, the carbon cycle will keep the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere balanced and global temperatures steady. In other words, it allows our planet to remain hospitable for life. But when large amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere at once, the whole cycle can fall out of balance.

The carbon cycle helps maintain a stable climate on Earth.

What’s happening to the carbon cycle?

Since the industrial revolution, humans have released vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, or carbon that’s been stored for millions of years in reservoirs underground. Because of our activities, scientists expect atmospheric CO2 to reach levels 50% higher than the pre-industrial era in 2021.

As we emit more CO2, the greenhouse effect intensifies and temperatures rise, resulting in  a long-term shift in climate and weather patterns, also known as climate change. And we’re right in the middle of it, at this very moment. Global temperatures have already risen by around 1°C (or 2°F) since 1880, with two thirds of the warming happening since 1975. 

What does a warmer climate mean?

A warmer climate also means a more unstable climate. No matter where you live, you’ve probably already witnessed its effects. Extreme weather events and natural disasters are increasing in frequency, intensity, and impact, affecting the most vulnerable populations the most.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

Droughts and floods threaten crop yields and jeopardize our food security, while wildfires are happening with more frequency and intensity, destroying our forests. What’s more, due to expected sea level rise from melting ice sheets, scientists estimate that today, up to 630 million people live in areas that will be threatened by rising sea levels by 2100. 

The list, of course, does not end here. Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, and the longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to avert a global catastrophe.

What can we do to stop this?

The good news is, if we all stand up to climate change today, we can still restore the carbon cycle, revive nature, and preserve life on Earth. Each and every one of us holds a piece of a big puzzle. Now we need to act together. Read more about the power of collective climate action here.

A big part of the solution lies in more effective climate policies, as well as creating a global economic system that buys, uses, and wastes less. However, the impact of individual climate action can often be more tangible and immediate. If millions of us individually decide to reduce our emissions and protect the planet, our collective impact will be enormous.

How can Klima help?

Klima helps you to live in balance with the carbon cycle. With Klima you can neutralise your own carbon footprint by funding verified climate projects that prevent or remove emissions elsewhere.

You will help revive forests, boost green innovation, and provide livelihoods, while keeping track of your climate achievements and receiving tips on how to reduce your footprint further and live climate healthy. To multiply your impact, you can invite friends, family, and colleagues to join the cause and become part of a global community of climate heroes.

After all, the carbon cycle was knocked off balance by human activity, and we’ll all have to chip in to help fix it. With Klima, you can simply and easily take your own emissions out of the equation in under three minutes.

Take climate action with Klima

Nicoletta Maestrini
by Nicoletta Maestrini
Lead Communications Manager
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