Episode 1: It's All About Carbon

Climate Change Questions

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When the subject is global warming, our mood is usually "uh-oh." Which makes sense, because a warmer Earth will lead to all kinds of disruptions and expensive adjustments that we could do without.

Climate Connections

NPR and National Geographic take a year-long journey around the globe to explore how climate is shaping people and people are exploring climate.

But there is another way to think about all of this.

What we have done here is a chemistry lesson, one that begins with the elemental cause of global warming: the behavior of the carbon atom.

And since carbon atoms are rather small, we have turned our atom into a cartoon. Just so you can see it better.

This is the introductory segment of a five-part series that explains how carbon atoms form bonds, break apart and create the conditions that can lead to global warming. Since most of us are beginners when it comes to elemental chemistry, this is a lesson in five, easy-to-grasp steps. And grasping, by the way, is a big part of our story.

I know a lot of chemistry teachers may happen by, so let me say, right from the start that this is not even remotely hard science; this is a whet-your-appetite exercise that we hope will get lots and lots of people, especially people who don't rush to chemistry class, familiar with the root causes of our warming problem.

In this, the first lesson, we introduce our atom.

You may be surprised to know that you, the person reading this, are to a significant degree a carbon-based organism.

So are your friends, your pets, your plants, and every living thing on Earth.

And there's a reason for that, which we get to in the next episode: It's About Bonds.

So take a look.

Correction Nov. 9, 2009

The on-air version of this story stated that energy is released when carbon-atom bonds are broken. To be more precise, energy is released after the bond is broken and carbon atoms grab on to other atoms.

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