All living things on Earth contain carbon. But, what is carbon? Why is it important?
Carbon is found all over the Earth. It is an element. It is in the air, in the ocean, in the Earth’s crust. If carbon is mixed with other elements you get; limestone, chalk, marble, coal, gas, alcohol, sugars, fats, and even medicines. The black stuff in your pencil, graphite, is carbon. Diamonds are 100% pure carbon. Your body even contains carbon, the same stuff from which diamonds are made! Carbon is inside of us, outside of us, and right now you are breathing out carbon (in the form of a gas: carbon dioxide). Carbon is everywhere.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas found in our atmosphere (the air surrounding the Earth). It is colorless and odorless.
CO2 helps insulate the Earth and keep our atmosphere at just the right temperature for life to exist.
We are lucky to live on Earth. Venus is almost the same size as the Earth. It is made up of about the same things. However, the atmosphere around Venus is mostly carbon dioxide. All of this extra CO2 acts like a big huge winter coat around the planet. The CO2 traps in and holds the sun’s heat. The temperature on Venus’s surface is thousands of degrees! Much too hot and way too much CO2 for any living thing to survive!
People and animals all contain carbon. We get our carbon from eating plants or other animals. We breathe in oxygen which mixes with the carbon and then we breathe out carbon dioxide. (CO2)
Like people and animals, fish and other sea creatures breathe in oxygen. Their oxygen is found in the oceans water. Just like animals and people, they also breathe out CO2 (carbon dioxide).
Plants get carbon by taking carbon dioxide out of the air or water. All green plants breathe, except they breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Using the suns energy, the leaves of green plants take in the carbon dioxide from the air. The roots take in water. This makes food for the plant. The plant puts out oxygen. This is called photosynthesis.
Plants that live in water also use photosynthesis to make their own food. They take in carbon from the water and release oxygen.
Plants and animals eventually die and decay on the earth or in water. Carbon now enters the earth or the water.
Over millions of years the decaying plants and animals became oil, coal, and natural gas. We call these fossil fuels. We drill, dig, and pump these fuels out of the earth to use them for powering things that need energy.
By burning fossil fuels to energize our lives we add carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. The cycle starts over.