Plants extract carbon from the air through photosynthesis, the process of turning light into electrical and chemical energy. Carbon later transfers to animals who feed on plants.
Carbon is an essential element needed by living things for survival. Large amounts of carbon make up the solid parts of organisms. Carbon circulates in the environment through the carbon cycle. Plants acquire carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, which is combined with light, water and minerals to produce carbohydrates for plant growth. Through photosynthesis, plants release oxygen, which sustains animal life. Carbon returns to the atmosphere when dead plants and animals undergo decomposition.
When the remnants of plants and animals do not entirely decompose, they are buried into the ground, particularly below the oceans and seas where sand buries dead organisms. The carbon in these remnants becomes trapped beneath the surface of the Earth. It accumulates over millions of years and turns into fossil fuels. Humans burn fossil fuels to generate energy and provide power to communities.
The trapped carbon gradually returns to the atmosphere through rock weathering. This process maintains a balance between the amount of carbon trapped in Earth and the amount of carbon released into the air. It is essential to sustain this balance by avoiding excessive consumption of fossil fuels that exceeds the amount of carbon stored in the Earth.