Carbon Recycling and Solar Energy – A Synergistic Approach to Sustainability


The carbon cycle, comprised of photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, and combustion regulates the movement of carbon through many different environmental reservoirs. Human interventions, such as the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, have all disrupted this balance – increasing carbon emissions and contributing heavily to climate change. All carbon on earth is the same carbon dioxide created and produced millions of years ago. There are four major steps to the carbon cycle, each working in tandem, to keep the element regulated: 


1. Photosynthesis: Plants, algae, and certain bacteria absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it to produce sugar and carbohydrate compounds. These compounds act as food for the plants to survive. This is completed through the Calvin Cycle, with the help of water molecules and photons from the sun. Oxygen is released as a byproduct. A similar process happens in humans and animals in the form of cellular respiration.


2. Respiration: The opposite of photosynthesis, respiration is a process which occurs in all living organisms when they eat plants and/or inhale, releasing carbon dioxide as they break down organic compounds to obtain energy. When they exhale, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, completing the loop in the carbon cycle.


3. Decomposition: After plants (and the animals that eat them) die, their matter undergoes decomposition. Microorganisms break down complex organic compounds into simpler forms, which release carbon dioxide back into the environment or the ground. This, over time, will solidify into sediment, stored beneath the surface and continue the carbon cycle.


4. Combustion: Carbon-based fossil fuels release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through fossil fuel-based energy production and volcanic eruptions.  


The carbon cycle relies on the earth’s ability to balance its chemicals throughout different steps of the cycle. When people alter different factors, it can hinder the earth’s atmospheric and environmental quality. For example, deforestation prevents photosynthesis from occurring at a high enough rate, and burning fossil fuels like coal and oil adds carbon dioxide to the air more quickly than it can be absorbed. When carbon levels are out of balance, both the air quality and the ocean suffer. 


The ocean is naturally a carbon reservoir, the largest in the world. Carbon in the air dissolves in the ocean and reacts with water to form carbonic acid. However, when too much carbon dissolves in the ocean, the result is carbonate formation. Carbonate causes the ocean’s acidity levels to drop, and plant and animal life cannot adapt. Coral is one of the most visible examples of the dangers of ocean acidification. 


There are several ways to combat carbon imbalance. Combating carbon imbalance means tackling both the pollution we create and finding ways to soak up excess carbon. We can start by using more renewable energy like solar and wind power instead of burning fossil fuels. Making cars and buildings more energy-efficient helps too. Protecting forests and planting new trees also sucks up carbon from the air. Even changing the way we farm can help by keeping more carbon in the soil. It’s important for everyone—governments, businesses, and regular people—to work together to fight carbon imbalance and lessen the effects of climate change.


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