What are Carbon Dioxide Emissions?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Carbon dioxide emissions are those that result from the process of burning fuel resulting in the creation of carbon dioxide. It is formed by two atoms of oxygen and one atom of carbon. Though carbon dioxide exists in all three states of matter - gas, solid and liquid - emissions are always in gaseous form. Carbon dioxide emissions may also be called carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions are considered an environmental problem due to their influence on the Earth's greenhouse effect.

When carbon-based fossil fuels are burned, the resulting carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere. The gas is odorless and colorless and relatively harmless. Carbon dioxide is only dangerous when it replaces all the oxygen in a confined area. At that point, it could cause asphyxiation. The gas is normally released into the atmosphere by animal life, and consumed by plant life.

Though carbon gas emissions do result from natural processes, this is thought to be counteracted by a natural balancing that the Earth does. The greatest concern centers on man-made mechanical emissions. The most common of those emissions specifically created by humans comes from automobiles and carbon coal emissions from power plants. For decades, the United States led the way in carbon dioxide emissions. In 2006, for the first time, China exceeded the United States in carbon emissions, credited in part to the aggressive coal plant construction the country had been undertaking.


Most of the attention with carbon dioxide emissions centers around its role in global warming. Though a minor gas in the atmosphere, and a minor player among global warming gasses, its influence is thought to be significant. Even though water vapor accounts for 95 percent of the Earth's greenhouse effect, many scientists and policymakers believe the amount of carbon dioxide contributed by man has tipped the balance toward a progressive warming trend. Therefore, the focus has been on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

To reduce emissions, efforts have been centered around the two major culprits - coal power plants and automobiles. Traditional methods of cutting emissions in vehicles have been fuel economy and cleaner fuels. The cleaner fuels, however, do little to actually cut carbon dioxide, though they may reduce many other pollutants. The current effort is more centered around alternative fuels, such as electricity and fuel cells. Coal plants are the other factor. Though clean coal technology has focused on carbon scrubbers, the technology is still not ready for practical use. Other types of power plants, such as nuclear, wind and natural gas, are preferred by some, because of fewer or no carbon dioxide emissions.


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