READER'S VIEW: The war on carbon is weakening food chain

NAPOLEON once said: "Only a foolish horse fights with his nose bag."

But today we have many foolish people fighting with their nose bag. They are weakening Earth's food chain with a war on carbon.

Carbon is the building block of life. "Organic" means "containing carbon" and every bit of plant and animal life is built around the carbon atom.

Carbon enters Earth's cycle of life via plants, which extract it from the rare and precious carbon dioxide plant-food in the atmosphere. Living things use this carbon, plus water, oxygen and minerals, to create the proteins, fats, carbohydrates and skeletons they need.

Plant growth responds quickly to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, today's levels are far below those that sustained the abundant forests, grasslands, wetlands, herbivores and carnivores of past eras.

The biggest long term threat to abundant life on Earth is natural carbon sequestration, especially during the recurring cold dry eras when cooling oceans absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and growing ice sheets capture most of its water.

Nature is very efficient at carbon capture and burial. Enormous quantities of carbon and hydrogen have been removed from past atmospheres and buried under ancient sediments in extensive beds of coal, oil shale, limestone, marble, dolomite and magnesite, and in diffuse deposits of hydrocarbon liquids and gases. The result is that the carbon dioxide level in today's atmosphere is not far above the minimum needed to sustain plant life (which is why nurserymen pump more carbon dioxide into their greenhouses).

However, in a rare piece of environmental serendipity, man's extraction and use of coal, oil, gas, limestone and dolomite for power generation, transport, steel, cement and fertilisers is recycling a tiny part of this storehouse of buried carbon. For example, for every tonne of coal burned, 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide plant food plus one tonne of fresh water is added to the atmosphere; and producing one tonne of cement releases about one tonne of carbon dioxide.

Every tonne of wheat grown needs a tonne of carbon dioxide to get its carbon and other foods have similar needs. Carbon industries thus help to feed all of Earth's plants and animals.

Industrial use of carbon-bearing mineral resources also recycles valuable trace elements like nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus which are present in variable amounts in coal, oil and carbonates. Any of these by-product gases can be toxic if concentrated in confined spaces, and all of man's activities can pollute crowded cities, but in the open atmosphere, plant life often suffers because of a deficiency of these key nutrients.

Those waging a war on hydro-carbons and carbon dioxide are enemies of the biosphere. Their foolish policies like carbon taxes, emissions trading and "Carbon Capture and Burial" are denying essential nutrients to the food chain. The failed global warming forecasts show that these policies will have no effect on climate, but will reduce the atmospheric supply of food nutrients and fresh water for all life on Earth.

Life is a carbon cycle - don't break the food chain.

Viv Forbes,

Rosewood



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