Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why Plants Can't Save Us From Global Warming

Polecat Bench in all it's glory showing off its PETM stripes
Picture use allowed by explicit note at source. Copyright 2006 Phillip Gingerich. (Author of this blog makes no claim of any backing by or connection with Mr. Gingerich. The significance of Polecat Bench is explained in article found at "World Without Ice" link below.

Rick Santorum recently said: "CO2 is a pollutant? Tell that to the plants."

 according to Dave Weigel at

I have styled part of the remaining post like a response to the presidential candidate, but it is, in fact, for the eyes of anyone who reads this:

Yes, Mr. S plants do use CO2 but you are ignorant about, or are not telling, the entire story.

Just because plants use CO2  in their sugar crafting cycle, doesn't mean we can count on them to fix everything we do to our ecosystem through that process.  I know the simple lies that Christians rely on to tell themselves that everything is going to be alright even if we continue to burn carbon that was stored underground millions of years ago. (I was a Christian for over 40 years and probably would still be except for George W. Bush, someone who is a lot like you.)

But to stop you and others from raping the earth more, and setting up conditions that may kill millions (though rich folk like you and the Koch brothers will be able to save your families for far longer than the poor people, who are already dying by at least 150,000 a year because of global warming) I will explain how the carbon cycle works and why it can't help us now.

I grant you that plants do consume some CO2 in their quest to create sugar.

They don't use it in during the photosynthesis process.  The formula for that process is immediately below:

2 H2O + 2 NADP+ + 3 ADP + 3 Pi + light → 2 NADPH + 2 H+ + 3 ATP + O2
Light provides the energy that is stored by changing ADP to ATP

The formula above creates a product that is essential in another chemical reaction that takes place in plants. In a second formula our green earthly compatriots do tie up carbon from CO2 molecules and build basic sugars:
3 CO2 + 9 ATP + 6 NADPH + 6 H+ → C3H6O3-phosphate + 9 ADP + 8 Pi + 6 NADP+ + 3 H2O
(For speed I got the formulas from the Wikipedia page for Photosynthesis)

All good and fine, right? But then what does the plant do with those sugars? They store them in more complex sugars, starches, and fats. Some plants, like trees, find structures that are a bit more permanent to create as well.

Sounds great, right?  I bet you're congratulating yourself Mr. S on how your "faith" has just solved all our problems.

Sadly, no.

The life cycle of any plant in our world is short,  new growth is "trimmed" or dropped and eventually all plants die, most within years of their emergence.

Some forests do help a little, though I doubt they could capture the mass amounts of carbon we release now even if they had all the land they needed to build their depositories that have been called "old growth forests" the only plant product capable of storing carbon for even the least geologically significant time.   Even worse though is the fact that most of our older forests are under attack by insects that were barely on the radar five decades ago. Massive swaths of old growth are being killed off by pests that weren't very successful under the cooler conditions then.

Other Old Growth forests are being cut down for development, farming, and access to minerals both by powerful industries and by marginal families looking to make enough money or get energy and food to get through another week under the oligarchic systems that are in charge in this world. So actually, the sequestration of carbon by plants is going in reverse.

And what happens to our crops, grasslands, etc? They die and then they decompose whether in our bellies as food, or on the ground, in a compost pile, or where ever, but the plants release all the carbon they stored in their short lives while they are decomposing or after being eaten an animal because, in the process of being digested by animals or even just microbes abundant in the world,  while the stored energy is released from sugar, starch and fat molecules, the carbon is once again released into the atmosphere as CO2.

Meanwhile (and this is the most important point)  we are pumping and digging millions of tons of carbon from the ground that has been locked up since the dinosaur ages. That carbon is then released by burning the fuels we use into the atmosphere never to be permanently locked up again until we get serious about doing something about the global crisis we are facing or until we are driven extinct and the earth has time to heal itself.

And please don't pretend that extinction will not be preceded by massive wars, riots, and totalitarian societies. Great fun to be had by all!

 Another factor you don't seem to have considered is that higher temperatures lead to more drought because the atmosphere doesn't need to release as much as much of it's water to the earth under higher temperatures. This is shown in empirical evidence from the fossil record from the PETM the massive heatwave brought on by the dump of thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere that then triggered the dreaded unleashing of captured methane in the arctic regions, a situation that scientists now fear the earth is approaching again.

During times of drought, which are considered likely under even moderate warming, plants cannot store as much carbon even temporarily for food we can consume. So the drought brought on by global warming hampers carbon sequestration. Look at the formulas I placed above. You aren't getting to the second one without the ATPs created by the photosynthesis which requires water available to the plant.

Yes, over the course of millennia the earth actually can actually stash the excessive levels of carbon away into rock formations, and some species may even survive in greatly changed forms, mostly very small. I doubt though that the human race will be recognizable if our weak, petulant selves can even be roused to face such harsh conditions without widespread war, pillage, and even cannibalism.

And, one thing is abundantly clear: Plants cannot save us from this future because their carbon storage is extremely temporary.

By drilling for oil and gas, and digging up coal we are taking amounts of carbon stored through geological levels of time permanently from the bowels of the earth and releasing it rapidly. It does not compute that plants can "permanently" lock it up again fast enough to stop catastrophe especially if the global climate change naysayers are in charge of our nations.

And, sadly, we are releasing the carbon much faster than the massive dump that happened at the end of the Paleocene Era where there is ample evidence of the widespread catastrophe brought on by too rapid carbon release.

Following is an excerpt from a National Geographic report on the Thermal Maximum that developed at boundaries of the Paleocene and Eocene eras. For more see a National Geographic report  World Without Ice print page. (Just close print command box that pops up if you don't want to print it. I can't find the original site which may not be available at this late date.)
The total of 4.5 trillion tons [of carbon that was released] is close to the total carbon now estimated to be locked up in fossil fuel deposits; the initial burst corresponds to about three centuries' worth of human-caused emissions at the current rate. Though the data aren't conclusive, most scientists assume the PETM release was slower, taking thousands of years
 Yes, so in three centuries, if we even have that much time, human kind is likely to produce conditions that will cause massive extinctions, and that means us too, on this planet.  Before that though, as noted above, we are already killing at least  150,000 people a year because the Koch brothers and others want to make billions pandering an antiquated solution to the earth's energy problems, and people like Santorum want to accept their Big Money and play a game of Christo-politics which tells folks that they can ignore the warnings

Trust me. I studied botany. Plants cannot save us, and Santorum is fronting for Big Energy and others who are intent on growing wealth by being able to jack up the price of fossil fuels on struggling families while failing to help protect them and their progeny's future existence.  Meanwhile the Republican candidate pretends that some invisible being is going to send angels or something to save us, or maybe the plants will do it themselves.

I've shown that the plants can't do it, and has anyone seen any planet saving angels hanging around? I ask because there were no angels to save the million people W's war on Iraq killed, nor to help the other millions who had their lives horribly disrupted by the conflict.

I am frankly sick of the posers that pretend that there are such emissaries of God, or even a magic God figure,  so that they, and the wealthy and powerful can continue raping our planet and stealing from poor people to satisfy their own avarice.