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BIOL 1001 Week 2 Introduction to Biology

In this reading, we will explore the relationship between the carbon cycle and global warming. Global warming has emerged as a significant topic in recent years. Surprisingly, humans contribute around 2,500 million tonnes of CO2 annually through their normal breathing (Withers, 2019). 

However, the CO2 we exhale plays a crucial role in the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is a process in which carbon atoms continuously move from the atmosphere to the Earth and back into the atmosphere, as explained by the National Ocean Service.

BIOL 1001 Week 2 Introduction to Biology

Carbon dioxide is involved in both photosynthesis and cellular respiration, two processes that generate energy and byproducts. Photosynthesis and respiration share similar substances, including oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, and glucose. These processes rely on each other’s byproducts to operate effectively. Photosynthesis uses light from the sun to convert carbon dioxide in the air and water in the soil into oxygen and glucose. 

On the other hand, cellular respiration utilizes glucose and oxygen to produce energy, similar to breathing, which releases carbon dioxide and water. This continuous exchange between photosynthesis and cellular respiration is known as the carbon cycle. All living organisms depend on this exchange for the growth of food and the availability of oxygen (Veloz, 2020).

BIOL 1001 Week 2 Introduction to Biology

Human activities contribute to carbon dioxide emissions in ways other than breathing. Since the industrial revolution, there has been a significant increase in CO2 emissions. Around 650,000 years ago, carbon dioxide levels never exceeded 300 parts per million (PPM). However, by 2019, it reached a staggering 409.8 PPM (Lindsey, 2020). This rise in emissions is primarily attributed to the increased production of goods resulting from technological advancements. 

Unfortunately, this increased production has also led to a substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the world emits 40 times more greenhouse gases than in the 1850s (Lebling et al., 2018). The United States, Germany, Russia, and China are among the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally.

BIOL 1001 Week 2 Introduction to Biology

You might wonder how scientists know about emission levels from hundreds of thousands of years ago. The answer lies in how CO2 levels are measured. Scientists analyze air bubbles trapped in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica to determine historical carbon dioxide levels. Additionally, the Mauna Loa volcano is used as a representative benchmark for atmospheric conditions in the northern hemisphere (Dahlman, 2020).

The imbalance in greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels disrupts the carbon cycle. When fossil fuels are burned, carbon that has been buried for millions of years is released into the atmosphere at an unnatural rate. This leads to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that trap heat from the sun and warm our planet. Global warming refers to the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system, and the excessive production of greenhouse gases by humans has had significant implications for climate change.

BIOL 1001 Week 2 Introduction to Biology

The consequences of global warming are evident in the melting of Greenland’s ice caps, which have lost billions of tons of ice each year. Over the past 17 years, enough ice has melted to raise sea levels by approximately 12 millimeters (Herring, 2020). It is worth noting that despite no increase in the sun’s radiation since 1978, global temperatures have continued to rise. Furthermore, over 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been absorbed by the oceans, contributing to the warming of the Earth (Dahlman, 2020).

With the advancement of data collection and innovative technologies, we have a better understanding of how to combat this global issue. There is undeniable evidence pointing to the negative impact of human activities on the environment. Numerous efforts are being made every day to transition to a greener society. It is essential for us to come together and devise ways to produce clean energy for the sustainable survival of life on Earth.


Withers, N. (2019). How much does human breathing contribute to climate change? BBC Science Focus Magazine. [Online] Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/planet-earth/how-much-does-human-breathing-contribute-to-climate-change/ What is the carbon cycle? NOAA’s National Ocean Service. (2019, April 2). [Online] Available at: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/carbon-cycle.html

D, B. (2018, August 16). Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis. Biology Dictionary. [Online] Available at: https://biologydictionary.net/cellular-respiration-and-photosynthesis/ Veloz, L. (2020, December 31). How Are Photosynthesis & Cellular Respiration Related? Sciencing. [Online] Available at: https://sciencing.com/how-are-photosynthesis-cellular-respiration-related-12226137.html

Lindsey, R. (2020, August 14). Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: NOAA Climate.gov. [Online] Available at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

Lebling, K., Ge, M., & Friedrich, J. (2018, September 26). 5 Charts Show How Global Emissions Have Changed Since 1850. World Resources Institute. [Online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/04/5-charts-show-how-global-emissions-have-changed-1850

Herring, D. (2020, October 29). What evidence exists that Earth is warming and that humans are the main cause?: NOAA Climate.gov. [Online] Available at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/what-evidence-exists-earth-warming-and-humans-are-main-cause

Dahlman, L. A. (2020, August 17). Climate Change: Ocean Heat Content: NOAA Climate.gov. [Online] Available at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content

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