The Causes of Carbon Dioxide

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The greenhouse gas CO2, aka carbon dioxide, is caused by both natural and human activities. Of course, our continued burning of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal is our main contribution and has resulted in a 150% increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1750.

This is seriously alarming because these emissions have a direct effect on our climate. Higher CO2 concentrations add to the greenhouse effect and trap heat in the atmosphere. Contributing to our ever-present nemesis, global warming. Of course, this results in hotter temperatures that melt ice, alter the weather, raise sea levels, and disrupt various ecosystems.

As responsible people who actually care about our environment and want to leave our grandkids a liveable planet, we must understand the complete impact carbon dioxide has on climate change. Once we know these factors, we can work to not only reduce our own carbon footprint but the people and businesses around us as well.

Let’s take a look at all of the causes of this colorless gas. You may be surprised by some of them. Ever heard of “soil respiration” or “ocean outgassing”? Keep reading to learn more.

What are CO2 Emissions?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas that can’t be seen or smelled, and it’s not harmful. It occurs naturally and comes from different places, like when things burn or when living organisms breathe. It’s also made when we burn fossil fuels, burn biomass, change how we use land, and do certain industrial activities.

CO2 is a type of greenhouse gas that affects how heat from the sun gets trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. This can make the Earth warmer, which can cause problems like climate change. CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that humans make, and it’s used as a way to compare how other greenhouse gases affect the Earth’s temperature.

What is the highest source of carbon emission?

Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have caused a big increase in carbon dioxide emissions. The main source of these emissions is burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. This accounts for about 87% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. The rest comes from things like cutting down forests and making changes to land (9%), and certain industrial processes like making cement (4%). Fossil fuels have carbon that’s been stored underground for millions of years. When we burn these fuels for energy or industry, carbon dioxide is released into the air. Over the past century, carbon emissions from fossil fuels have gone up a lot. Since 1900, there’s been a big increase. Especially since 1970, CO2 emissions have gone up by about 90%.

What causes carbon dioxide emissions in the air?

Most of us now know that carbon emissions (CO2 emissions) are building up in the Earth’s atmosphere. These increased carbon emissions are causing a rise in global temperatures and altering our planet’s climate. To truly grasp the effects of carbon emissions, we need to first understand their sources, both natural and human. Let’s explore where these emissions come from and how they impact our environment.

Human causes of carbon emissions

Burning fossil fuels for the past 150 years has allowed us to create amazing things in our modern world. But we’ve been using too much and the Earth can’t handle all the carbon emissions. Our activities produce way more carbon dioxide than volcanoes do. In fact, we produce over 135 times as much CO2 every year! Volcanoes only produce about 0.13 to 0.44 billion metric tons, while we produce more than 35 billion metric tons! The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased a lot since the 1700s. It used to be 280 parts per million, but now it’s over 421 parts per million.

Burning fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas, releases a gas called carbon dioxide. This happens when we use them to make electricity, power vehicles, or create heat for factories and homes. Fossil fuels store carbon that comes from really old plants and animals. When we burn them, the carbon mixes with air and makes carbon dioxide. It’s like a chemical reaction!


Deforestation is when forests are cleared to make space for farming or cities. When trees are cut down or burned, the carbon they store is released as carbon dioxide. Forests are super important because they soak up carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. When trees are gone, they can’t do that as well. Deforestation is a big deal because it makes up about 10% to 15% of the carbon dioxide we put into the air each year. Saving forests and planting new trees are important to reduce carbon dioxide and fight climate change. Let’s keep our forests and use land sustainably to help the planet!


Agricultural activities release carbon emissions, mainly in the form of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, during various farming practices. These emissions contribute to climate change and global warming. Farmers can adopt sustainable practices to reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate the impact on the environment. By implementing eco-friendly techniques, such as precision agriculture and organic farming, we can minimize the harmful effects on the planet. Let’s work together to create a greener and more sustainable future for agriculture!

Agriculture contributes to carbon dioxide emissions in several ways.

  • Land use changes: When we convert natural areas like forests and grasslands into farmland, we’re actually releasing carbon that was stored in the trees and plants. This leads to deforestation and the loss of important carbon storage areas.
  • Soil management: Some ways we manage soil, like plowing or tilling, can actually release CO2 from the ground. These practices expose organic matter to oxygen, which speeds up the decomposition process and increases carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Biomass burning: In certain agricultural practices, we burn biomass to clear fields or manage waste. But when we burn biomass, we release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air.

Remember, it’s important to be mindful of these factors and their impact on the environment!

Guess what? Agriculture doesn’t just help grow food, it can also help save the planet! By using cool practices like agroforestry, cover cropping, and conservation tillage, farmers can actually trap carbon in the soil and plants. It’s like a win-win for both farming and the environment! Want to learn more? Check out this article on sustainable agroforestry systems and practices in agriculture.

To decrease carbon emissions in agriculture, farmers can implement sustainable land management techniques, use fertilizers more efficiently, adopt water-saving irrigation methods, and shift towards climate-smart and regenerative farming practices. These sustainable farming methods not only help protect the environment but also ensure the long-term viability of agricultural systems. By making these changes, farmers can contribute to a greener future while maintaining productivity and profitability.

Sustainable agriculture has the potential to play a crucial role in tackling climate change and ensuring food security in a rapidly changing world. By effectively balancing emissions with sequestration, we can harness its power as a solution. Let’s work together to create a more sustainable future.

Industrial processes

Industrial activities primarily emit CO2 through the combustion of fossil fuels for energy generation and diverse manufacturing processes.

Numerous sectors heavily depend on fossil fuels to fulfill their energy requirements. These fuels are combusted in factories and other industrial sites to produce power, warmth, and steam. As a result of this combustion process, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released as a waste product.

Cement is super important in construction. It’s made through a chemical process called calcination. This process heats up limestone (calcium carbonate) to make lime (calcium oxide) and releases carbon dioxide in the process.

Did you know that making cement actually releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the air? It’s true! Cement production is a major contributor to industrial CO2 emissions.

Did you know that some big industrial processes, like making steel, chemicals, and refining stuff, can let out carbon dioxide? Yeah, it happens when they do certain chemical reactions and use up a lot of energy. It’s not so good for the environment, so we gotta be aware of it!

Many industries depend on transportation and shipping to move goods and raw materials. These activities usually involve burning fossil fuels in vehicles, ships, and airplanes, which leads to more CO2 emissions. This harms the environment and contributes to climate change. To reduce these harmful effects, we should find greener alternatives for transportation and shipping methods. By adopting cleaner technologies and using renewable energy sources, we can help protect the planet and create a sustainable future.

Industries are striving to use cleaner technologies and practices to reduce their impact on the environment. They’re shifting to renewable energy sources, finding ways to use energy more efficiently, capturing and storing carbon emissions, and adopting eco-friendly manufacturing methods. These steps are helping to decrease pollution and create a greener industrial sector.

Waste management

Even trash can produce carbon dioxide, which adds to the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. Different kinds of waste and how we handle them can release this gas.

Incineration is a method of getting rid of waste by burning it. But here’s the catch: when waste is burned, it releases a gas called carbon dioxide into the air. Even though some people think incineration is a way to get energy, it still causes air pollution and adds to the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So, we need to find better ways to deal with our trash without harming the environment.

Burning waste, like plastics and other stuff, happens in some areas without any control. This releases bad gases and pollution into the air. It’s not good for the environment!

Improperly handling organic waste can cause it to break down naturally or in the wrong places, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s important to manage organic waste responsibly to prevent these emissions and protect the environment.

Other activities that require a lot of energy.

Metal smelting and refining, which are energy-intensive processes, also release carbon emissions while they are being carried out. This means that when metals are produced, harmful carbon emissions are released into the environment.

Natural sources of carbon emissions

Human activities contribute significantly to the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. However, it’s important to note that natural sources also release carbon emissions into the atmosphere.


Animals and plants release carbon dioxide as they breathe. Similar to how we exhale carbon dioxide, animals and plants also emit CO2 into the air. This natural process contributes to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Did you know that carbon dioxide isn’t all bad? In fact, trees and other green plants actually use carbon dioxide during a cool process called photosynthesis. They take in carbon dioxide from the air, along with sunlight and water, and use it to make energy for growth and survival. So, carbon dioxide is like a super important ingredient for plants to thrive! Pretty awesome, right?

And it doesn’t end there! When animals consume plants, they also take in some of the carbon dioxide. This forms a natural cycle where carbon dioxide is exchanged between plants and animals, maintaining a harmonious balance. Keep the ecosystem in check by understanding this crucial process!


When things decompose, tiny living things like bacteria and fungi help break down dead plants, animals, and other natural stuff. As these things break down, the carbon they have inside gets turned into carbon dioxide. This happens because the tiny living things breathe, just like we do, and when they breathe, they make CO2.

Decomposition is super important in nature. It helps recycle stuff like carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which plants and animals need to grow. It also helps break down dead stuff and put carbon back in the air, completing the carbon cycle. So basically, decomposition is like nature’s way of recycling and keeping everything in balance. #ecosystem #recycling #nature

Soil respiration

Did you know that soil respiration is like soil breathing? It’s when tiny living things in the soil, plant roots, and other soil-dwelling organisms release carbon dioxide into the air. It’s an important process that happens in nature!

Soil breathing happens because of living things in the soil. Tiny bugs like bacteria and fungi break down dead plants and animals, which makes carbon dioxide come out. Plants also breathe and let out CO2 into the soil, which can later go up into the air. It’s all part of nature’s way of recycling stuff!

Soil respiration, the release of carbon dioxide, changes depending on factors like temperature, moisture, and the amount of organic matter in the soil. When it’s warmer with more moisture, soil respiration goes up, resulting in more CO2 being emitted. This process contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Ocean outgassing

The oceans are super important in soaking up CO2 from the air, but they can also give off CO2 under certain situations. It’s like a two-way street for carbon dioxide in the ocean!

This is the process:

The oceans are like a giant storage tank for carbon, they soak up a lot of the carbon dioxide that’s in the air. When CO2 mixes with seawater, it turns into carbonic acid, and then it changes into bicarbonate and carbonate ions. This process, called oceanic carbon uptake or ocean carbon sequestration, helps control the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. It’s like nature’s way of keeping things balanced.

Did you know that the oceans are not just a place where carbon dioxide goes? Surprisingly, sometimes the oceans actually send carbon dioxide back into the air! This happens when the water gets warmer or when the way the ocean moves around changes. It’s pretty interesting how the oceans can affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere!

As water gets warmer, it can’t hold as much dissolved gas. This causes carbon dioxide (CO2) to be released into the air. Also, when deep ocean waters with lots of dissolved carbon come up to the surface, it adds to the amount of CO2 being released. This happens because of upwelling currents in certain areas.

Maintaining a balance between the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed and released in the oceans is super important. It helps control the carbon cycle and keeps atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in check. Right now, the oceans are doing a good job of absorbing a lot of the CO2 we humans are putting out, but they can also release CO2 when things like temperature and ocean currents change. Remember, the oceans play a big role in controlling CO2!

Volcanic activity

Volcanoes erupt when hot liquid rock called magma comes up to the surface. This magma has gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and more dissolved in it. When the magma gets closer to the surface, the pressure goes down, and the gases are released as volcanic emissions. It’s like the volcano is burping out gas!

Volcanoes don’t release as much CO2 as humans do. Every year, volcanic eruptions emit around 200-300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, while human activities emit billions of metric tons. So, compared to us, volcanoes contribute way less to CO2 emissions.


Did you know that wildfires release carbon emissions into the air? When wildfires burn through plants and trees, the carbon stored in them gets released as carbon dioxide. It’s like when we burn fossil fuels or other organic matter. The carbon combines with oxygen in the air and turns into carbon dioxide, which goes back into the atmosphere.Natural carbon sinks keep the balance

Wildfires have always been a part of nature, but things like climate change, how we take care of the land, and human activities can make them happen more often and be more intense. Lately, we’ve been seeing more severe and widespread wildfires in some places because of these things.

The carbon dioxide from wildfires is part of the natural carbon cycle. Usually, in healthy ecosystems, new plants absorb the carbon released during wildfires as they grow back. But when wildfires happen too much or are too intense, it can mess up the natural balance of carbon and make the carbon dioxide in the air increase.

Did you know that the Earth has its own way of dealing with carbon emissions? It’s called the carbon cycle, and it’s all about balancing things out. You see, our planet has amazing systems like forests, oceans, and soil that can actually absorb and regulate these emissions. Pretty cool, huh? So, next time you hear about carbon emissions, remember that Mother Earth has got it under control!

The carbon cycle is like a natural system that keeps carbon dioxide levels in check. It’s all about finding a balance between releasing carbon into the air and storing it away. This way, we can make sure the atmosphere doesn’t get overloaded with carbon dioxide. So, let’s remember to do our part in maintaining a healthy carbon cycle!

The Earth’s carbon “sinks” are like huge storage units for carbon dioxide. They have the ability to absorb and store a significant amount of carbon dioxide from natural sources. Normally, these natural “sinks” can handle all the carbon dioxide produced without any problem.

No need to stress, nature has its own method of handling carbon emissions. Plants and other organisms that use photosynthesis require carbon dioxide for their growth, and the Earth’s natural processes excel in storing and utilizing it effectively.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow. This rapid burning has not only messed up our surroundings but has also released way too much carbon into the atmosphere. Our poor planet simply can’t keep up with this excessive carbon emission.

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“Understanding the Carbon Cycle.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration,

“Deforestation and the Carbon Cycle.” Rainforest Alliance,

“How do human CO2 emissions compare to volcanic CO2 emissions?” Skeptical Science,

“Effects of Ocean Temperature Rise on Marine Life.” National Geographic,