Carbon Dioxide Emissions: How Plants and Trees Could Save the Republican Party in 2012
Anyone who's taken a biology class can explain to you how plants and trees contribute in essential ways to the well-being of our environment. It goes far beyond their roles as, shall we say, best supporting actors in the food chain; it's the way they're wired. Whereas every animal from the human to the cow requires oxygen to live (read: make the energy necessary for our bodies to function on even a cellular level), the analogous process of making energy in plants requires carbon dioxide, and actually releases oxygen into the air as its by-product. It's living, breathing proof that one plant's junk is another man's treasure.
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Why is that little tidbit of remedial biology suddenly relevant? Because, quite simply, our leafy green friends could be the only thing keeping us from literally cooking in our own juices.
It should come as no surprise that human beings are responsible for emitting the largest amounts of greenhouse gasses-- carbon dioxide being chief among them-- than we ever have in our history as a species. But a new study from the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory suggests that not only are our planet's trees, plantlife, and oceans soaking up unprecedented and unexpected levels of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions, they haven't even reached their maximum capacity.
And while earlier studies have shown that these naturally occurring processes that have provided a safety net for human industrial innovation were starting to wear thin under our considerable weight, this new study confirms that plants and oceans haven't fallen behind just yet. In fact, they're pulling about half of the carbon dioxide we produce right out of the atmosphere with no signs of stopping.
"Globally, these carbon dioxide 'sinks' have roughly kept pace with emissions from human activities, continuing to draw about half of the emitted [carbon dioxide] back out of the atmosphere," says Pieter Tans, a researcher and climate scientist associated with the recent study, which analyzed around half-a-century of exponentially growing global carbon dioxide measurements.
And even though they're not showing any signs of stopping, Tans warns that we shouldn't rest on our carbon-dioxide consuming laurels just yet. "Since we don't know why or where this process is happening, we cannot count on it," Tans warns, "We need to identify what's going on here, so that we can improve our projections of future [carbon dioxide] levels and how climate change will progress in the future."
But even though it's possible that human beings across the board may not be able to profit from this for much longer, there is one subset of our species that can cash in right now: The Republican Party. For the longest time, they've been the figurative ostriches putting their heads in the sand when it comes to climate change and the saving of our environment. Climate Change, like Evolution, is still semantically a theory, and the GOP has been able to challenge the work that climatologists, who study trends in climate change in the long term, carry out by getting meteorologists, who study changes in climate in the short term, to produce work that refutes their findings. But the truth is that these two sciences aren't actually in opposition: while one says that everything is fine, the other warns that everything will not be fine for much longer.
But now, if the GOP plays their cards correctly, they can use this recent study to their advantage by doubling down on their contributions to protecting our environment. It's a little-known, often surprising fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by President Richard Nixon; and that's exactly the kind of rhetoric that's been missing from the conservative argument as of late. Granted, in the face of our grim economy, a politician's stance on the environment is no longer as important, but if the Republicans get to framing this the right way, they'll mollify their competition.
It's a simple strategy. They say: "We're the party that created the organization that's done the most for our environment, both nationally and internationally. This new study shows that the environment we saved is going to keep on sucking up our carbon dioxide emissions and has no signs of stopping. Everything is more fine than it's ever been."
This forces Democrats and Liberals into a hard place. All of a sudden, conservative politicians and their constituents are using rhetoric like Pro-Tree to pigeon-hole their opposition. And given that the study does not prove conclusively that our environment will be hitting its carbon ceiling any time soon, or ever, it's not necessarily a losing argument.
That is, unless you plan to be alive for another forty years.
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