The Fate of Fossil Fuel CO2
We would never have imagined life on Earth if we hadn’t seen it for ourselves. The intrepid heroes on the TV show Star Trek occasionally encountered sentient beings composed entirely of energy, rather than carbon. Such beings would never have predicted the magic of carbon on Earth from first principles, or at least from the first principles of science that we have discovered so far.
A tiny fraction of the carbon on Earth is living carbon. If the living carbon on Earth were smeared out over the entire surface of the Earth (a grisly thought) it would be just a few millimeters thick. This thin layer of goo is able to accelerate the chemical reactions on the planet to rates thousands of times faster than they would go otherwise. It controls the chemistry and the climate of the surface of the planet, its atmosphere, oceans, and soils. It aggressively seeks out new chemical reactions to exploit, and has figured out how to harvest light energy from the star the planet is orbiting. Who would have thought of this?
Life is based on the chemistry of the element carbon. No other element rivals it in its complexity on Earth. Carbon’s nearest relative on the periodic table, silicon, has a complicated chemistry on the Earth, too. Silicon chemistry sets the stage for plate tectonics, and the properties of the ocean and continental crusts.