Why is a natural and essential element like carbon so bad for the environment?

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Why is a natural and essential element like carbon so bad for the environment?

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Because elemets don’t matter, chemical compounds do.

Nobody wants to get rid of any carbon, just CO2 (and CH4 to a lesser extent), the very same carbon as part of a tree (as C6H12O6) would be amazing.

Also there’s an ideal amount of everything, we don’t want to get rid of too much CO2 either, that would conversely lead to global cooling, we want just the right amount too keep the deserts from spreading, the agricultural land fertile and the ocean not acidic.

It’s not carbon that’s bad for the environment, it’s some of the carbon-based chemicals such CO, CO2, hydrocarbons, etc. It just happens that many of them share carbon as a base element, so “carbon footprint” and similar are a way of grouping them together. Pure carbon is harmless*. It just sits there (unless it catches on fire).

Edit: *mostly* harmless.

Hope that answers your question.

As with nearly everything, things aren’t about good and bad. Things need to be balanced.

There is a carbon cycle – a certain amount of it is held in plants and animals. Some of it is in very small lifeforms like algae, plankton. A lot of it is held in things like rocks, fossil fuels (like coal, gas, oil) and in the soil (peat etc). Some of it is in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.

What is happening is that, because of industrialization, humans have been releasing a lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – a lot of it by burning fossil fuel for energy. Deforestation for agriculture also contributes. There are, of course, natural sources of carbon dioxide but it appears that things are going out of balance.

Too much carbon dioxide increases the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere, heat that would otherwise be radiated back into space. This is called the greenhouse effect. The major concern is that this results in changes to the climate. The problem is that this might further unbalance the carbon cycle leading to a very drastic and hard to reverse climate change affecting all life on this planet.

“the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm’s way, turning it into tar to cover the land with, smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest out into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another– particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke and short of fish.”

-Douglas Adams (*The Restaurant at the End of the Universe*)

The earth’s environment is a pretty delicate balance. Too much of anything will throw it off. We then consider that “bad”, because we have evolved to live in this kind of environment.

In itself, carbon isnt good or bad. Its just carbon.