Carbon is the basic source for material and energy. In its natural state, carbon circulates between the land, the atmosphere and the ocean. It’s one of nature’s oldest substances, and every living being depends on it. Through photosynthesis, nature has found an incredible way of distributing this carbon evenly, keeping everything and everyone on our planet alive.
Nature captures significant storages of carbon into its biomass, soil, oceans, and fossil raw materials. This is called the carbon cycle, and it remains sustainable only when the uptake and release of carbon are balanced. Here is where humans come into the picture. Ever since our species discovered fire, throughout the industrial revolution and even to this day, we have disturbed the balanced carbon cycle of nature.
Our societies have developed based on our addiction to burning carbon.
This addiction has resulted in excess amounts of carbon being released into our planet’s atmosphere, and over time we have created a significant dent in the initially sustainable carbon cycle. This carbon is now stored in the atmosphere in the form of CO₂, disturbing our nature and causing our climate to change dramatically.
As we humans are addicted to burning, a more adequate name of our species could be Homo Flammabus. Human activities that underpin the unsustainable carbon cycle can be divided into three main categories:
• Fossil energy and material use
• Deforestation and land use change
• Consumption behavior
We have become very skilled at refining fossil energy – specifically crude oil. Our efficiency improvements have kept the energy prices low and given our consumption habits room to grow. In our eagerness for cheaper energy, we’ve completely forgotten to calculate the climatic cost and factor it into the price.
Changing our consumption habits would require a change in how we view and value energy. The price of fossil-based energy should reflect the costs that it inflicts on our carbon cycle and our climate. Unfortunately, as a result of what we call the distillation curve challenge (see chapter #5), an immediate reduction of all our fossil-based products is unlikely.
The business of powering our everyday needs in regional silos has come to an end. The climate emergency has changed this. The energy challenge that we and future generations face, if not solved quickly, will have serious consequences.
There are good reasons to believe that current policies and mitigation tools are far from what we need. They are not strong enough to achieve the objective of the Paris Climate Agreement of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.