Some climate change deniers claim that the recent increase in carbon emissions should be of little concern because carbon is not a pollutant. It is true that element carbon is found naturally throughout the environment and is even considered a building block of life. It is true that animals, including human beings, breathe out carbon dioxide as a natural part of respiration. What is not true however, is the myth that just because carbon is a natural element it cannot be a pollutant. When humans burn carbon that has been sequestered underground for millions of years in form of fossil fuels we make carbon act as a pollutant. A pollutant is defined as a substance that has poisonous or harmful effects upon its introduction to the environment (Webster’s dictionary). When one understands this definition of pollutant it becomes easier to understand how carbon dioxide could be considered one.
Carbon dioxide that is released by the burning of fossil fuels has harmful effects on the environment; this is a fact (IPCC Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report). CO2 emitted into the in the atmosphere harm the environment by creating the greenhouse gas effect. The extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prevents some of the sun’s radiation from exiting the atmosphere thus increasing the earth’s surface temperature. The CO2 responsible for the greenhouse gas effect is much larger in quantity than what humans naturally give off while breathing. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can only be explained by unnatural releases of CO2, like the burning of fossil fuels (IPCC Special Report).
While carbon may be a natural element, it has become a pollutant because its introduction to the environment on the scale it is currently being emitted has harmful effects. Therefore, the myth that carbon is not a pollutant and carbon emissions should be of little concern is scientifically false.