The release of the gas from car exhausts and power station chimneys has already begun to alter the natural ratio in the atmosphere.
Today’s plants will already seem artificially aged, according to the radiocarbon clock.
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(You can read up on radioactivity and isotopes here).
Carbon-14, the radioactive version of carbon, is rare — it only makes up one trillionth of all the carbon in the world.
Not only that, we top up our carbon-14 levels every time we eat.
And plants top up their radioactive carbon every time they turn carbon dioxide to food during photosynthesis.
This is known as the “Suess effect”, named after the Austrian physicist Hans Suess.
And a scientist pointed out in 2015 that this effect will become more pronounced.
Chemically, carbon-14 is no different from non-radioactive carbon atoms, so it ends up in all the usual carbon places — one trillionth of the carbon atoms in air, plants, animals and us are radioactive.
All radioactive atoms eventually decay into something more stable, and carbon-14 decays into nitrogen.
Living tissue also incorporates the stable isotope carbon-13, and this could provide a guide as to the trustworthiness of any reading − even under the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario for greenhouse gas emissions.
“In 2150, new samples will appear to be the same age as 3,000-year-old carbon, and in extreme cases even the same as 4,300-year-old material,” says.
It's not that the radioactive carbon in air or food doesn't decay, it does.