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Humans and other organisms are dependent on carbon for food and energy. With the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago, our populations grew, we migrated across the globe, and our demand for resources increased. Subsequent industrialization in the 1800’s led to an exponential increase in human population that was fuel by the discovery and use of fossil fuels.

At that time, the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, in an effort to explain the ice ages, realized that atmospheric carbon dioxide could influence surface temperatures like a greenhouse. Specifically, he concluded that carbon dioxide could act as an atmospheric insulator allowing the penetration of incident solar radiation while retarding its subsequent radiation as heat from Earth’s surface. He also predicted that increases in carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels could influence global climate. He was honored with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903. Although Earth’s temperature is known to be influenced by natural cycles associated with variation in our planets orbit around the Sun, the consensus of current climate scientists is that human actions are responsible for the current rise in Earth’s temperature.

Recently, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide could result in an increase in the average global temperature of between 2 to 4.5oC. Soon, we will reach an atmospheric concentration of 400 ppm CO2 which is 120 ppm higher than pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. The Earth’s temperature has increased over 1oF in the past century, and the last decade was the warmest on record since thermometer-based observations began. Global warming is now known to increase the probability of extreme weather events, and result in rises in sea level due to the melting of glaciers and the polar ice caps. The adaptability of organisms across the globe is also being tested by these abrupt changes.

With an understandable unwillingness to relinquish our current standard of living, we are increasingly testing ourselves as our population has surpassed 7 billion individuals and could possibly double by 2050. Humans are an ingenious and creative species though, and recent acknowledgement of our problems has led to research into the development of renewable, clean fuel.

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