Welcome to Keystone Wild!Notes newest feature, "Our Changing Climate."
In this column, we're going to explore climate change and how it will influence Pennsylvania's species and habitats. To kick it off, I thought we'd begin with the basics. So let's talk about what's gotten us into this mess -- CARBON.
It's important to recognize that carbon is not bad. In fact, it's the element on which all life is based. We are all carbonbased units, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek. So why, then, is it causing such problems?
In order to answer that, we first need to understand where and in what forms carbon naturally occurs. Carbon is found in four global reservoirs:
These reservoirs aren't static. Carbon is constantly moving back and forth between them through the carbon cycle. The rate and direction of this movement has been relatively stable, at least until recently.
We've been removing huge amounts of carbon from the geologic reservoir. This began with the industrial revolution, and then really kicked into high gear after Edwin Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859.
As we burn coal, oil and natural gas for fuel, we transfer
geologic carbon to the atmospheric reservoir. Additionally,
deforestation, particularly in the tropics, is converting large
amounts of terrestrial carbon into atmospheric carbon as well.
And on top of that, as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, the amount that is transferred to the oceans is also increasing, leading to concerns about ocean acidification.
If we're throwing the system out of balance, what should we do?
There are three essential and complimentary steps: