Protecting the Carbon Sink
by Eric W |
Tropical rainforests act as what scientists call a carbon sink - one of the “natural systems that suck up and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert CO2 and water into glucose (food for the plant) and oxygen.
The glucose produced in this reaction contains carbon that becomes part of the plant. As the plants grow and shed leaves and branches, the organic matter degrades and becomes a part of the soil, storing carbon in the ground. Over time, forests continue to absorb CO2 from the air and deposit carbon in the soil, reducing the impact of climate change.
As shown by the map above, the tropical rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia store a high amount of carbon. The two countries produce 85% of the world’s palm oil, a process that eliminates millions of acres of tropical rainforests to clear land for the crops. This not only destroys the forest capable of absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide but also releases immense quantities of greenhouse gases by burning the land.
The Consequences of Climate Change
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the primary greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. As people and industries continue to emit large quantities of this gas, more heat is trapped, and temperatures rise over time. The current climate change crisis refers to the long-term increase in global temperature due to human activities. The temperature has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880 and will continue to rise if greenhouse gas emissions remain at current levels.
As the planet warms, NASA projects an increase in the severity and frequency of droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes. The droughts in the west will become even more severe, further impacting food and water supplies. By 2100, the rising sea levels will result in the chronic flooding of 670 coastal US cities. The impact is already apparent in communities such as New Orleans and Miami. Measures big and small can be taken to mitigate this crisis, including protecting vital carbon sinks to continue fighting climate change.
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