Carbon is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is the second most abundant element in the human body. Every single organic molecule in your body contains carbon. It is the basis of life and energy itself.
All plants and living creatures are formed by organic compounds where carbon is combined with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements.
Carbon makes up about 0.025 percent of the Earth’s crust. Carbon is also in the sun, stars, comets and the atmospheres of most planets.
Carbon moves from place to place as part of the carbon cycle. For instance, when we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. Plants take in that carbon dioxide to grow, which removes it from the atmosphere. A balance of carbon in the atmosphere is needed to have a hospitable living environment on Earth.
When plants and animals die and decompose, sediment containing carbon is formed. Some of this sediment becomes fossil fuels, such as coal, oil or natural gas. When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon-emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to scientists, the burning of fossil fuels is upsetting the atmosphere’s carbon balance, leading to extreme weather and climate change.