Friday, February 09, 2018

How Can We Capitalize on the Effects Plants Have on the Atmosphere?

(Here is the latest interesting piece from our regular contributor, Emily Folk)

Plants rule our planet almost as much as humans do. From the giant redwoods of California to the ancient bristlewood pines to the microscopic phytoplankton in the oceans, plants sculpt our world. They are the main reason we have the atmosphere we do, since their ability to photosynthesize draws large amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and replaces it with oxygen. 

Photosynthesis at Home

Having plants in your home or office is a simple, healthy step you can take to do your part in helping the environment. The biggest part of what plants do is photosynthesis. They help give us the oxygen we breathe. Just having them around your home can help keep the air inside cleaner, something we all need during the winter.
One of the best options is to invest in some houseplants. Many plants are easy to grow and act as air purifiers. The most important thing is to make sure they aren’t toxic to your pets or kids, who might be inclined to take a nibble. Snake plant is a good starter plant, but it’s not one you should allow your pets to eat. Its hard, thick leaves will deter most animals though, and its size makes it a significant statement piece for your home.
When you plant outside your house instead of inside, you do even more for the environment. Plants help reduce soil erosion in areas that are prone to water runoff, and they can help provide insulation for your home. If you live in an area with other plants, they may offer homes to a variety of wildlife as well. 
Plants on the Global Scale

Forests are a different story. Deforestation and the subsequent use of the land account for up to 23 percent of man-made climate change. We’re creating an enormous impact by cutting down native vegetation and replacing it with monocultures (growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed). A tree on its own may be a renewable resource, but a forest is not. That is an aspect of global climate control we are fast losing. 
To really make an impact on reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we need to increase flora globally. Rainforests and oceans are the two biggest carbon sinks on the planet. One way that seems doable is to turn plants into a more prominent part of business. People will get invested in it if it gives them something, and we don’t have to limit it to farming and monocultures. 
Farming has its own issues. We tend to clear out native vegetation and plant monocultures instead, which is often useless to native animals. However, if we start planting forests and simply allow them to grow, then you get an entirely different result. The issue, of course, is that forests must have a use, and are often monocultures raised for lumber. Oceans, on the other hand, aren’t as accessible to people and aren’t used in the same way. 
We’ve found some really innovative ways to plant forests in the ocean. Some aquaculture is simple but astounding. Kelp forests are amazingly productive at removing CO2 from the atmosphere by deacidifying the surrounding waters. They also provide natural homes for a plethora of different species. Farming them isn’t as profitable as it could be yet, so working on getting people interested in it is vital. 
The kelp can be used for everything from supplements to fish food, so it has a definite value for consumers. Growing large-enough forests to help alter the climate of the planet, however, is another story. We would need to use kelp the way we use fossil fuels to have that much impact, and that in itself could lead to issues. 
Some say we can’t fight climate change. But we do know that plants, both on land and in the oceans, are one tool we can use to mitigate the severity of it. Going about it is a challenging process, but it’s one we can work on. Take the first step and get a houseplant or work on a garden. Even small things can make a big difference. 
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger, covering topics in conservation, sustainability and renewable energy. To see her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter!


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