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What is carbon dioxide?

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Quick Answer

Carbon dioxide is a colorless, non-organic compound that is a gas at room temperature and comprises about 0.03 percent of Earth's atmosphere. It is produced when materials that contain carbon are combusted, and it is one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases that trap heat within the Earth's atmosphere.

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What is carbon dioxide?
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Chemically, each molecule of carbon dioxide is composed of one atom or carbon and two atoms of oxygen, covalently bound together. Carbon dioxide gas is produced and excreted naturally by animals as a byproduct of respiration. Whenever you exhale, you are excreting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is also used by plants to conduct photosynthesis, the complex series of reactions through which they are able to make glucose.

Carbon dioxide is of particular interest because of its classification as a greenhouse gas. Human activity is responsible for releasing increasing amounts of this gas into the atmosphere in recent years. Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline and natural gas are burned for heat, electricity and transportation. According to the EPA, emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States increased about 10 percent from 1990 to 2011. Experts believe that the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming, and that reducing carbon dioxide emissions can help slow this process.


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