Monday, March 18, 2013

Earth's Life Support System

If you have the unfortunate experience of being put on life support in a hospital, the price you (or your insurance company) pays is over a $1000 dollars a day. Using this as a starting figure, what should we value mother natures life support system? Think about it, the air you breath on a daily basis comes from plants all over the world. Sea algae contributes the bulk of it and the rest comes from trees, plants and mosses.

There is a good chance that at one time you ate a plant that once produced a little bit of the oxygen you breathed while eating it. The chances are much better if you harvested it from your own garden. But more than just a curiosity, or a relic of biology, plants are currently the only source of fresh oxygen necessary for every person and animal on earth.

The kingdom Plantae is as important; if not more, to human life as any part of modern day civilization. If a disastrous virus were to target chloroplasts, the organelle that plants use to generate energy from sun light, human life would be relegated to months at most. When biodiversity is lost the ability to fight off disease by having the genetic variability to find unique solutions to the problems nature and man creates is stifled.

What we are approaching today is the cusp of a radical change (by human standards) in biodiversity. It is easy to think that the loss of one species is not a big deal, after all, 99% of all species that have ever existed are long gone. Life has survived several mass extinctions in the past; the Permian, the Cretaceous/Tertiary for example. But that view is dangerously myopic.

It ignores the fact that these major collapses did not happen simply because of one major catastrophe. It is much more probable that the loss of a handful of species lead to the decline of the rest. Today we are witness to changes in biodiversity, that in the context of geological time, would be indistinguishable from the changes that lead to previous mass extinction events.

We are not extinguishing nature's resilience for the expense of man kind, but at the ultimate expense of man kind. We are not making a world inhospitable for nature, but most certainly inhospitable for human life. I know in the past I have written about the species that would benefit from a rapidly warming climate, giant insects and cold blooded reptiles, but mammals do not have such a rosy outlook. We are mammals.

If we do not take the changes needed seriously, limiting every individual's carbon footprint, stopping deforestation, ending the contamination of ecosystems with chemicals, and developing long term sustainable solutions to our needs, then the price paid by future generations will cost a lot more than $1000 per person per day.

As always I welcome comments and critiques and will not edit or omit anything.

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