By Ranil Senanayake –
Another largely unaddressed fact that frames Climate Change is the fact that global Oxygen concentration is falling. The two graphs, one from the US and the other from Australia demonstrate that this loss is global. The only process that can add free molecular Oxygen into the atmosphere is photosynthesis, carried out by leaves of plants and phytoplankton of the ocean. Given such a significant impact on the Global Commons of atmosphere and given the fact that a warming ocean holds less Oxygen. Understanding the role of Oxygen is important in climate change.
It is a fact that the sustainability of Oxygen production is being endangered by the fossil driven economy. The expansion of fossil energy based industrial farming at the expense of vast regions of forests not only destabilise the atmosphere by accelerating global warming, it also removes the very basis of life by burning biologically created Oxygen without paying for its replacement. Around 26 million tons of Oxygen is used to maintain the current rate of global consumption of oil, about 90 million barrels of oil per day. It would require over 225 million trees working for one year to produce an equivalent amount of Oxygen.
The signs are all around. A recent study on the levels of Oxygen in the ocean found that the oceanic Oxygen levels decreased by 2 % over the last 50 years. On land, the font of Oxygen are the leaves of trees. Another study published in the journal Nature suggests that 15 billion trees are cut down each year and the global tree count has fallen by 46% since the beginning of human civilization.
Anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion is the largest contributor to the current O2 deficit, which consumed 2.0 Gt/a in 1900 and has increased to 38.2 Gt/a by 2015. This way, approximately 100 Gt (gigatonnes) of O2 would be removed from the atmosphere per year until 2100. At an average, a human, needs about 750kg of Oxygen per year. All of humanity consume about 7 Gt per year. The trajectory is disturbing. Sri Lanka, in the Country statement to COP 21 suggested a solution, it stated :
We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognized
As the inception of all ecosystems begins with Primary Productivity, its first measured outputs are termed Primary Ecosystem Services (PES). These are the actions of photosynthesis in a leaf. These actions are, Oxygen generation, Carbon Dioxide sequestration, water cleansing and ambient cooling.
This suggests a way forward, recognizing the value of PES can provide a huge economic boom, it also creates an incentive for the public to participate in the essential work of environmental repair. There are other benefits in recognizing the value photosynthetic biomass as the proxy for PES. Photosynthetic biomass can retain value only as long as it is living. – A leaf on a tree, for instance, has value only as long as it is carrying out the activity of photosynthesis and producing PES, pluck that leaf and the activity ceases, as does the value. – The economy will, for the first time begin to put a value on life. Such an economy will increase photosynthetic biomass everywhere and render that area rich in environmental services as well in economic opportunities. It will change urban – rural relations into a more equitable and sustainable state and rapidly increase the biomass capital of the planet locking up Carbon Dioxide.
The initial ideas for marketing the growth of photosynthetic biomass was presented at the Forestry Congress in Havana, Cuba in 2011. There would be an increase of Oxygen generation, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. Additionally, because the degraded ecosystems around the planet offer the space where a large amount of biomass can be gained and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value and generating wealth for its occupants. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children. There is capital to power such activity. The current estimated annual value of ecosystem services is US$16–54 trillion. Living photosynthetic biomass is an ideal substance to capitalise it.
Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber or fruit and vegetable that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the living photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems, is component that needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’.
One suggestion address the problem is to create process that create positive externalities and place value on things that externalize their input into the Global Commons. This process of ‘giving back’ or externalizing the output of contracted entities are valued and recorded. Each unit of the system is measured for its production of contracted Primary Ecosystem Services (C-PES) which are the products created by photosynthetic biomass, Oxygen, Carbohydrate and clean water. Recorded over time, these products protect the health and sustainability of a myriad of natural ecosystems on terrestrial landscapes. The transaction history maintained as a certificate or on a blockchain, will create wealth by monitoring and recording the transaction values to the Global Commons.
The Sri Lankan government has already recognized the value of this approach to the rural sector. Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy based growth as ‘Economic Development’, can we respond to the call for a change in our systemic thinking, by appreciating the value of photosynthetic biomass and become the first country in the world to propose setting such a value? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but change the lives of rural people the world over !
The realization of Ecosystem Service values, reflected as rural wealth, has the capacity to reverse the destructive path we are on. It can redirect the current economic dialogue based on profiting from negative externalization, which is leading us to death and destruction, to an economic dialogue based on the profit of positive externalization, leading to life and restoration. One company has already picked up the baton (www.restore.earth), hopefully many more will follow this new path and create a livable future for humanity.
Climate Change is real and will impact all of us one way or another, it is accelerated by the consumption of fossil fuels that drive ‘economic growth’. But there are ways in which we can respond. Many have been known for long time, some are new, but unless we inform ourselves and prepare to respond to the oncoming changes, Climate Change could bring some very unpleasant surprises. The public need to be informed on probabilities and responses on a constant basis, Climate Change means, floods, droughts, fires, rising seas, heat etc. may happen at very short notice, unless we have response plans for each scenario, it means that some of us will suffer the consequences. This is a full obligation of the authorities to be fully cognizant of the regional climate predictions and advise vigilance in advance. Remember that for agriculture, breeding heat tolerance and salt tolerance is a critical need and cannot be done on a short time frame. In a future with a rapidly changing climate, we the public, must strive to protect each other. Looking at each other as a wolf does a sheep, cannot create a nation nor protect it.