Plan B for the Carbon Cycle
September 22, 2017 by Denis Pombriant
Every living thing is dependent upon green plants for sustenance. Whether you’re a vegetarian, a herbivore, or a carnivore if you look back far enough in your food chain, what you eat comes from green plants and ultimately the sun. Even fungi that breakdown once living things in the process of decay, earn a living from green plants. Without them life as we know it is impossible because only green plants can capture solar energy and make it available to living things.
Plants directly participate in the carbon cycle a huge and ongoing process that captures energy and carbon turning it into food for animal life, and that eventually returns the carbon to the air thus renewing the cycle. The carbon cycle also has interesting side cycles too and the best-known one involves fossil fuels.
As the name implies, fossil fuels are made from things that were once living but through a quirk of nature and geology those living things were preserved first in sediments and later, underground, for many millions of years. Geology turned dead plants and microbes into the coal, petroleum, and natural gas that we use today.
But these fossils are only available in limited amounts and we’ve been using them for over 150 years already; moreover, energy demand grows at about 2 percent per year. And since it takes millions of years to produce fossil fuels they are irreplaceable.
From The Age of Sustainability: “A 2013 article in The Guardian states, ‘Official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil [production] had most likely peaked around 2008.’ The article quotes Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 until retiring in 2008, saying, ‘We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover — but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].’ ” The human race’s energy appetite grows not simply because population grows. We also find new ways to use energy. Moreover, a good deal of fossil fuel never gets burned but is used as the raw material for all kinds of products from the rubber in a tire to plastics, synthetic fibers, and even pharmaceuticals.