The War Against Trees and Phytoplankton

People are always talking about rising carbon dioxide levels, talking about how to reduce emissions, and slow the rise in temperatures and sea levels. But what about increasing the rate of carbon dioxide being taken out of the atmosphere? That’s where trees and phytoplankton come in.

Trees in the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace.
Trees in the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace.

There’s a problem, though. It seems that with the rate of deforestation, especially in tropical regions, we’re eroding the Earth’s ability to reduce the greenhouse gas. Trees are also good at taking pollutants out of the air. It’s beneficial to have plants in your home, because they make the air cleaner and fresher. I look around where I live, and I see industrial areas surrounded by trees. But in the residential areas, people live on tiny properties with little to no plant life growing on their properties. It’s all concrete. In areas where people are living, they make them so unappealing to me. I like yards with grass and trees. It’s better for the air, too.

Trees are wonderful, but what about the plant that takes half of the job of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? That job goes to phytoplankton, which lives in the oceans. Over the past half century, the number of phytoplankton has actually increased by ten times. Sounds wonderful, and it seems that they’re able to handle an increase in ocean temperatures by about two degrees pretty well. However, with the increase of carbon dioxide, ocean water is acidifying, and that’s bad news for the phytoplankton, as they have chalk-like shells. Those break down in more acidic water. But increase global water temperatures by six degrees, and that’s the breaking point for phytoplankton. They will cease producing oxygen. And this will result in a very quick suffocation of the world’s animal life, including humans.

Oh, that sounds lovely, doesn’t it? This is something that hasn’t really been paid attention to before. While a six degree increase is a lot, and extremely unlikely to happen within our lifetimes, it could happen if left unchecked in our descendants’ lifetimes.

I, for one, do not want our generation’s mistakes to cause suffering to our children’s children’s children. But do people care? I find that there are a lot of people I know who post things on Facebook that are anti-science and claim to refute climate change, yet they have no clue that the things they are posting are written by people who have an agenda. They post articles that are from websites that are completely biased and leave no room for any debate. They pick and choose pieces of evidence, yet they don’t look at the whole picture. It’s a dangerous way of thinking, and I will argue against what they are saying. I dislike misinformation. They do it for the sake of local jobs and the economy. I’m far more concerned about my daughter’s future in a world that has more and more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures.

I wish it were an easy fix, such as planting more trees. More trees would help, but not enough. At least it would help slow the increase, even if it is a small amount.

What are your thoughts about this whole debate? I’d like to hear your opinions in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “The War Against Trees and Phytoplankton”

  1. I am writing about climate change a tiny bit today too. I am shocked by what the trees do at the moment.
    I am a plant lover and every windowsill or balcony I see with plants makes me nod in approval! There are some easy steps with which we all can help I think, even if it does not do much. I am so glad for roof gardens too 🙂
    Here they are building new parks all the time and invite people to green their windows (they sell the plants they don’t need for the gardens at a very low price to the public).

    1. Roof gardens are a requirement for new skyscrapers in Tokyo. They all have to have them now. Green walls are also becoming popular. Basically, it’s a curtain with vines growing on it, and people will place them in front of their windows. It helps cool things off inside the house in summer, and reduces electricity usage. And it provides more oxygen!

  2. Because I have done a lot of research and commentary on shale oil/gas extraction, other fossil fuels, renewable energy, and climate change, I could write for hours about it. I also have a daughter who is getting her master’s in conservation biology with a concentration in restoration of plants in ecosystems. One of the major issues facing those in the field is whether to restore species that had been in a location or whether to help plants, especially trees, to “migrate” to elevations or latitudes that better suit them as temperatures rise and ecosystems shift. As you point out, the ocean systems are especially challenged due to acidification, coral bleaching, and other problems.

    And, yes, it is so frustrating when people refuse to acknowledge what is happening to our climate and environment.

    1. Restoration of native plants would probably best for the ecosystem, but unfortunately, when they replanted the forests in Japan, they used Japanese cedar (it’s not actually a cedar, but Cryptomeria japonica). This has resulted in most people in Japan developing an allergy to the pollen, and the trees just matured about five years ago. Worst hay fever season ever. Unfortunately, I have the allergy, too. Terrible planning by the government, but Japan is 80% forested once again.

      1. It’s really difficult to restore any ecosystem when the climate conditions have shifted. It also would be surprising to me if the original forest were monocultures. The pollen/allergy problem is also exacerbated by global warming. All around the world, allergy problems are increasing because the earlier spring and warmer temperatures are causing not only more days of pollen production but also more pollen production per plant.

        1. In recent years, people have been complaining about allergies earlier than usual in spring. Starting in February instead of March. I’m curious about if I’ll have allergies in Canada.

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