Carbon sinks: How nature helps fight climate change

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Smoking industrial chimneys, exhaust fumes, fires in the Amazon — yearly carbon emissions recently swelled to 12,000,000,000 tons (12 gigatons).And as carbon increases, so do temperatures.

Around half of emissions released remain in the atmosphere. Nature absorbs the rest, holding it in carbon sinks, such as soil, oceans and vegetation. These natural storage solutions slow climate change far more effectively than any human technology — carbon storage factories store just 40 megatons of CO2 annually or 0.003% of anthropogenic emissions.

Natural carbon sinks could perform even better with a little tweaking and for a comparatively small price tag. But humans are destroying more and more natural CO2 sinks, damaging our most successful tool to halt a climate catastrophe.

Nature struggling to keep up

As humans rapidly increased their carbon emissions by burning fossil fuels, the amount of CO2 absorbed by plants, soils and oceans also increased. Plants actually benefit from an oversupply because high CO2 concentrations mean they must open their pores only briefly to absorb the gas. This way they lose less water and can better survive droughts.

However, scientists say plants and oceans will soon reach their absorption capacity. For instance, by 2050, ocean surfaces will be completely saturated with CO2.

Humanity is also now producing more carbon than nature can process, and so the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is rising rapidly.

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