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Can Science Save the Planet



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The argument over whether the planet needs saving is a complex one. Various species may be lost as the climate fluctuates, but this has happened throughout the existence of the planet and is arguably something that doesn’t need to be altered. If species die out due to changes in their environment, then should they be saved, or should we just stand by and allow natural selection to occur? Who are we as a race to decide which species lives or dies?

Personally I believe we should protect bio-diversity, as ecology as a science is very young, and we do not yet know how the loss of a certain species might adversely affect other species within its environment, with many mutualisms and commensalisms yet to be properly observed, we simply cannot gamble and allow species to become extinct if we are able to prevent such an event occurring.

These losses may be put down to human influence, some species have been hunted into extinction or close to it. And others have been adversely affected, for instance on Mauritius after the Dodo birds were hunted to extinction, the Calvaria tree lost it's method of germination. The Dodo's would ingest the large seeds of the Calvaria tree, and their rough gullets would abrade the seed, which enabled germination. This was noticed as on the island a recent study found that there were no Calvaria trees under around 200 years old. While this loss for the Calvaria tree of its mutual partner the Dodo could have meant a double extinction, humanity was able to stop it with very simple means. Turkeys. These large birds were introduced and could ingest the Calvaria seeds and abrade them, and young Calvaria trees are now growing.

That is an act of extremely simple scientific observation leading to the saviour of a plant species, enabling the biodiversity of Mauritius to be maintained, especially important as it is an isolated island.

Moving onto the factors influencing the world other than direct human manipulation, there is the popular modern fear of global warming.

The idea that humanity has caused, or at least attributed to global warming is based on sound science, but the effect we as a species has had is no greater than that of what may have been caused on a relatively regular scale due to volcanic eruptions or even just weather cycles on their own.

There are many ways that science can offset the changes it has already caused, with the technology in place to actually mimic photosynthesis to capture carbon from the air, with the added benefit that it also has the potential to create energy from solar power. Encouraging algal bloom in the oceans is another way that carbon can be offset, with a great deal of research into this area. This idea of capturing carbon that is released is possibly the most feasible solution, although much research needs to be done before either the technology or practices mentioned here can become truly effective and safe, with the prospect of encouraging algal bloom being extremely dangerous to other inhabitants of the oceans.

Arguably the greatest problem mankind faces is raising sea-levels from the melting of glaciers and permafrost, however an increase in temperatures has been observed (in Norway during the 1980s especially) to increase evaporation and evapo-transpiration, thereby increasing precipitation, which in turn allows glaciers to advance. This change in glacier mass balance takes large quantities from the water cycle, thereby offsetting any increase in sea level.

These observations indicate that the fluctuations we have observed by studying past climates with palynology, ice core analysis and other methods are not just down to chance events but the idea that ‘mother nature’ does in fact have fail-safes built in to maintain relative equilibrium throughout time, and for things to not just get totally out of control.

Such a conclusion as the last paragraph would suggest the world does not need saving any more than simply preventing extinctions of animals from occurring. And that is more down to the fact that a balanced ecological environment is positive for us as humans, it allows us to grow crops, as pests don’t get out of control, because their predators are still around to eat them. Also the collective guilt of the human race, having the displeasure to see great animals like tigers or cheetahs struggle for survival is an interesting topic. Would it affect the world so much if they went extinct, possibly not? However it would be a great shame to lose their presence in the world, as living, breathing examples of survival of the fittest.

In all, the world has shown through millions of years of evolution (a term applied to geological and climatic changes as well as biological ones) that it can retain relative equilibrium over a relative period of time, which suggests that as the currently dominant species we don’t have to save the planet, but that is unlikely to stop us trying....

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