So we know it’s getting hotter outside, and we know that the reason it’s getting hotter outside is that there’s way more carbon dioxide in the air now than there has ever been in human history. That brings us to our last question: “Where is all this carbon dioxide coming from”?
About 200 years ago, people started burning oil, coal, and other fossil fuels in large quantities to create energy. You may have heard this shift referred to as the Industrial Revolution. Burning fossil fuels helps to heat our homes and charge our computers, but it also produces by-products, like the exhaust you’ve seen coming out of car tailpipes. Well, it turns out that one of the main components of these by-products is carbon dioxide.
And we’re burning a lot of fossil fuels. In 2021 alone, we burned enough fossil fuels to release 36.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (source). To put that number in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 800 trillion pounds, or the combined weight of 5.7 trillion people. That’s a lot of carbon dioxide, and it’s also the last piece of our puzzle. All of that heat and dangerous weather is being caused by a huge jump in carbon dioxide, and that huge jump in carbon dioxide is coming from burning fossil fuels.
Other Greenhouse Gases
Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas! You may have heard of others like methane and nitrous oxide. We’re releasing those into the atmosphere at historically high rates too, from things like landfills and fertilizers. Each type of gas has different properties. Methane, for example, stays in the atmosphere for much less time than carbon dioxide, but is 25 to 80 times more effective at trapping heat.