Development or survival? Imbalance – Ground views

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Sri Lanka’s country declaration to the 21st Conference of the Parties (known as COP21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Paris in 2015, said: “We are aware of the big difference in carbon dioxide emitted by biological sources. and carbon dioxide emitted from fossil sources. One has sequestration rates measured in thousands of years while the other in millions of years. Yet the cost is still the same. We would ask the IPCC to deal with the relative costs of each. “

Carbon (C) – the fourth most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen (H), helium (He), and oxygen (O) – is the cornerstone of life. It is the basic building block that anchors all organic substances in fossil fuels to DNA. On earth, carbon travels through the earth, ocean, atmosphere and interior of the earth in a major biogeochemical cycle (the movement of chemical components through the biosphere from or to the lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere). The global carbon cycle can be divided into two categories: the geological / ancient cycle, which operates on large time scales (millions of years), and the biological / modern cycle, which operates on shorter time scales ( days to thousands of years).

The fossil carbon cycle

The workings of life have been clearly shown to change the chemistry of this atmosphere to what it is today. One of the most active agents of this change was / are oceanic plankton, microscopic photosynthetic phytoplankton that produce prodigious amounts of oxygen and biomass over time. Oxygen is released into the atmosphere and the biomass is consumed by the respiration of zooplankton (microscopic marine animals) within days or weeks. Only small amounts of residual carbon from this plankton are deposited on the ocean floor at any given time, but over long periods of time this process represents a significant removal of carbon from the atmosphere. This slow removal of carbon from the primary atmosphere to the fossil reservoir, while creating an atmospheric reservoir of oxygen, had a major effect on the maintenance of biotic homeostasis (any process used by living things to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.)

A similar process repeated itself on the earth, especially during the Devonian era, the enormous mass of vegetation that covered the earth absorbing carbon dioxide and then was mineralized in the lithosphere to coal, effectively removing this volume of carbon dioxide. carbon in the earth’s atmosphere. The oxygen released by these first prodigious forests greatly contributed to the chemistry of the present atmosphere.

Life on earth has learned to maintain optimal gas and material flows for the evolution of biodiversity. Carbon dioxide, although essential to the life process, has been introduced into the atmosphere by volcanic processes at disturbing levels throughout geological history. But the gas did not concentrate in the atmosphere because it was sequestered by living things and taken out of the living carbon biosphere’s circulation. This carbon store has fossilized and slowly accumulated over the past hundreds of millions of years.

Thanks to these processes, which are still active today, the carbon that enters the lithosphere is completely removed from the life cycle and mineralizes in pools that are 100 million years old.

The modern (biotic) carbon cycle

The major exchange of carbon with the atmosphere results from photosynthesis and respiration. During the day of the growing season, the leaves absorb sunlight and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the oceans, the planktonic cycle operates a similar photosynthetic cycle. Both create biomass. At the same time, the plants, animals and microbes in the substrate consume this carbon as organic matter, transform it into the process of respiration, and ultimately release it as carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

The overall impact of active photosynthetic biomass can be illustrated by the volume of water released into the atmosphere in the form of water vapor. At a 100: 1 water release rate where more than 100 water molecules are released for every carbon dioxide molecule absorbed by the leaf. The quantity of water cleaned and released annually into the atmosphere by vegetation is between 5,640 and 6,280 billion tonnes.

Over the course of a year, these biological carbon flows cycle more than ten times the amount of carbon introduced into the atmosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels. Atmospheric carbon belongs to the global ecosystem or global commons and has a very important chemical signature and the cyclic movement of biotic carbon occurs in cycles of a few days to thousands of years, but always maintains the same isotope ratio.

It is clear that fossil carbon and biotic carbon have vastly different sinks and must be assessed differently when considering the impact on the global biosphere; it is the post-industrial combustion of fossil carbon that introduces an increasing increase of “new” carbon into the atmosphere.

The current rush to fix the carbon released by burning fossil fuels by planting trees is failing. Extracting and burning carbon that is a hundred million years old and putting it in a tree with a life of a hundred years is not locking it up.

A clear distinction between fossil and biotic energy and attributing differential values ​​to the two sources will go a long way in exposing these dependent economies and helping “developing countries” avoid the pitfalls. The “fossil subsidy” comprising the fossil cost of producing and using the cement necessary for the creation and operation of future “development” projects should become a cost criterion for the acceptance or rejection of future ones. “development” projects.

(Part 4 of this series will be released tomorrow)

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