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Plant Power to the Planet

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How do you think of your planet, our earth?

a) As a big blue marble?
b) As a spinning globe on top of a desk?
c) A network of teaming cities, airports, trains and highways?
d) Or as mountains, oceans, and plains that nurture us spiritually as well as sustain our very lives?

All of the above, perhaps, but (d) is the answer on which we will focus here.

To offset harmful carbon emissions, which make us sick and ratchet up the speed of global warming, we should conjure up a giant terrarium: a safe harbor for earth's ecosystems. Biology is the answer. At least, that is the concept of Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, one of our most preeminent and productive scientists, who founded the series NATURE on public television, and coined the phrase biodiversity.

As both a tropical and conservation biologist, he runs a joint research project in the Amazon with the Smithsonian Institute and Brazil's national Institute for Amazon Research. At present, he is working in an advisory capacity with members of the Obama administration to create a "green planetary infrastructure." His former advisory positions are too numerous to mention; he has served on science and environmental councils under Presidents Reagan, Bush 1, and Clinton. Currently, he holds the Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment in Washington, D.C.

Because of the increase in dangerous CO2 emissions from a relatively safe level of 350 parts per million to 389 ppms, we need to find ways to retrench to previous levels ASAP. Restoring biological resources is imperative in order to add more carbon "sinks" (or storage) to our existing ones, trees for instance. We all think of trees as providing the most natural and successful sequestration for CO2 emissions, but there are other important sources. Availing ourselves of them all is critical to our success.

Global warming in Colorado is increasing pine beetle activity that is threatening to devastate pine forests on a monumental level, as is the borer on the American ash on the East Coast. As we know, global warming that threatens massive arctic melt and decomposing tundra will heighten carbon emission levels. And with the rain forest in the Amazon continuing to be razed, our trees need all the help they can get in doing their job.

Terrestrial ecosystems have lost in the last 3 centuries 200-250 tons of carbon. Dr. Lovejoy's proposal is to build up earth's stamina so it will function effectively again as a carbon sink for emissions. We do this by restoring degraded grass lands, by reforesting, and by managing agriculture. Grazing lands, gardens and plants, deserts, parks, and army bases, even your grandmother's hat if it sports greenery and flowers, are all candidates for storing excess carbon emissions.

This plan will mean changes in the ways we till the land for growing purposes; for example, a new technology called biochar takes animal and plant waste, converts it into fine charcoal and then introduces it into the soil. This plan also will aid in providing more carbon sequestrations, or more storage for carbon. Strategies are in the making to restore the planet so it will "sink" the carbon emissions the way it did before the emergence of fossil fuels. We would use soil, trees, wood, plants, leaves, grass to nurse us back to health. Clearly, we still need to reduce fuel emissions to return to our goal of 320 ppms in the air in which we live, but this concept of Dr. Lovejoy's will help toward our goal. According to biologist Lovejoy, "This is a plan to use the living planet to make the planet more habitable." Certainly, this is a practicable proposal and welcome contribution to the well-being of our big blue marble or our complex of metropolises, or our magical gift of beauty and sustenance called Earth.

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