Letter: Key to climate is ‘us’ | PostIndependent.com

Letter: Key to climate is ‘us’

On the question of climate change it is important to recognize that we here are the primary source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There was a time before European immigrants swept across the Continent when the “wildlife” of North America, the millions of bison, native peoples and passenger pigeons, held that title, but today it is us, particularly from our burning of fossil fuels.

Our survival and “livelihood” is dependent on having a sustainable level of oxygen in the air we breathe to fire the internal combustion of carbohydrates to create the energy that keeps us going. We also need fresh water to replace that which is constantly leaking from our bodies.

Life on earth began in the sea, and we need to maintain that sea beneath our skin. Plants also need to maintain a “sea within,” but their “breathing,” with photosynthesis utilizing the energy of the sun to create carbohydrates, their supporting structures, from carbon dioxide and water, reverses that of ours and exhales oxygen. Water also evaporates from their pores and must be replenished. The biodiversity and interconnectedness of life is far more complex, but this is the basic biology of the Earth.

Studies have shown that with increased levels of carbon dioxide, woody plants, the carbon builders, grow faster and bigger, at least to a point. Not all plants benefit equally, and a recent study of rice (chosen because so much of the world relies on it for nutrition) suggests that its protein content may drop.

Here in Boulder, with a mild winter and abundant spring rain, the current outburst of greenery, our green revolutionaries, can be attributed in part to a higher concentration of surface level carbon dioxide. (This is my speculation. Call it poetic intuition. With the number of variables, real science on this is incredibly difficult.) Other parts of the state, with a diminished snowpack, drought conditions and the threat of hot, dry summer winds and wildfires, have not been so fortunate, and our good fortune may not last long.

Water vapor and energy are the other primary products of the burning of carbohydrates. Weather patterns and climate are largely determined by the circulation of ocean currents and air masses around the globe. On the molecular level, the interaction between the oceans and the atmosphere is an enormously volatile exchange of energy, which, amplified by warmer air and oceans, leads frequently to the creation of water-laden cyclonic storms. Water is essential for life; too much or too little becomes problematic.

A recent study shows that with the warming of the planet, again carbon dioxide a greenhouse factor, the distribution of water is tending to increased precipitation at the poles and in the tropics and less in the middle latitudes. Should this continue, the impact on global agriculture will be catastrophic. The interconnectivity of all life on Earth is at a critical point this century.

Fossil fuels are also at the core of the explosive proliferation of plastic products and trash, the production and recycling of which require further pollutants that also end up throughout the ecosystem.

Plastic debris in the oceans is a particular threat to marine life. Nearly all industries today are dependent on one form of plastic pollution or another, be it in manufacturing, the product itself, or in its shipping and handling. Propelling this forward is the worldwide “supply and demand,” “sales and marketing” dynamic of consumer capitalism that may well end consuming us all. Our “livelihood” and current lifestyles have simply become too excessive for the resources of the planet. This presents the dilemma of a person riding on the back of a tiger: How to get off? The answer of course, “Very carefully.” The trees in Boulder are doing all they can to sequester water and carbon dioxide. Whether it is enough will ultimately depend on us.

Robert Porath


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