Pissing in the Swimming Pool

The atmosphere of the Earth is a gigantic pool in which we all swim. Using this idea as an analogy, someone is pissing in the pool.

Everything put into the pool stays there until it is taken out. Carbon in the form of carbon dioxide is being put into the pool by all the burning of fossil fuels, including the burning of forests to clear new land for cultivation.

This carbon was removed from the atmosphere by natural processes working over millions of years, mostly by plants and micro-organisms turning carbon dioxide into living tissue. Oxygen breathers and volcanoes have added carbon back during that same time but not as fast as it has been being removed. The removed carbon has been sequestered away from the pool of atmosphere in the form of coal, limestone and other minerals, oil, natural gas, and vast forests of trees, other plants and coral.

Eventually, a kind of balance is reached in systems like this, basically the less CO2 in the atmosphere, the less can be removed and the more carbon there is not in the atmosphere, the more can be turned into CO2. Public swimming pools have a similar ecology, they have filters and chemicals to remove piss from the water. Of course, they can also drain the pool and replace all the water; we can’t do that with the atmosphere.

Humans have come along and, at first quite slowly, have been removing carbon from sequestration, mostly by burning it. Wood has been burnt for probably tens of thousands of years, coal for several hundred and oil in vast quantities for a bit over a hundred years. All of this carbon dioxide goes into the pool of the atmosphere, the one we swim in.

And just like piss in a swimming pool, the carbon dioxide we humans are emitting with our fossil-fueled civilization is polluting the pool. We don’t really have a choice, we have to stop pissing in the pool.

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