We’ve focused a lot on the past two weeks on historical energy heroes – from inventors, to activists, to authors, and political figures but in reality there is one major energy component that is constantly working on maintaining homeostasis for our planet, and that is the planet itself! The science behind how our earth is constantly regulating it’s own temperature, or removing CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, or how decomposition brings nutrients back to earth so that new plants can grow is nothing short of remarkable.
You’ve likely heard that trees produce oxygen, but how does it work? An article from National Geographic describes it as follows: “Trees—all plants, in fact—use the energy of sunlight, and through the process of photosynthesis they take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and water from the ground. In the process of converting it into wood they release oxygen into the air. In addition to the CO2 that trees capture, they also help soil capture significant amounts of carbon” (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/how-to-erase-100-years-carbon-emissions-plant-trees#:~:text=Carbon%2Deating%20trees,release%20oxygen%20into%20the%20air). There is a lot to be gained from even planting just one tree in your own back yard, and as it grows and grows it will continue to produce oxygen, contributing to the planet’s supply.
Alternatively, you may have heard the saying that the amazon rainforest produces 20% of the worlds oxygen, however this is a myth! While photosynthesis in plants does consume CO2 and produce oxygen as a byproduct, once the tree dies and decomposes, the process releases CO2 back into the air. According to a Newsweek article published in 2019, James Randerson from the University of California, Irvine, explains the key problems in deforestation as follows: “‘Deforestation and fire-driven forest degradation affect the carbon cycle in two ways. First, there is a direct release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the conversion process. Second, the loss of forest reduces the ability of the forest as a whole to absorb carbon. More forest fires in the Amazon will accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gases and we will have higher levels of global warming’” (https://www.newsweek.com/how-much-oxygen-amazon-rain-forest-1456274). While both points in his statement are alarming, the second portion is the key – forests, and other plants/bushes/etc, have a unique ability to absorb large amounts of carbon, and in a healthy, growing plant, it will continue to do so over the lifespan of the plant. So, if we burned down all of the trees in the world, we would not lose as much oxygen, as we would gain carbon since it’s no longer being eliminated by photosynthesis.
I won’t even begin to pretend that I understand Earth’s wind cycles and ocean currents, however I’ve come across some very interesting articles on natural planet heating and cooling while trying to learn more about these phenomenon – check them out below!
From volcano ash/sulfur entering the stratosphere and cooling the planet, to El Niño producing rain in the northern hemisphere, there are forces at work in helping to keep the planet’s temperature somewhat consistent. The problem is that these forces are almost negligible in the face of burning fossil fuels, hence the need to offset your carbon footprint as much as possible!