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When All the Forests Are Gone

Posted on August 2, 2015 by Jeanne Roberts There have been 0 comments

What will the human race do when all the green places are gone?

This scenario – impossible to imagine a mere century ago – remains hard to visualize even now. In spite of that, given the almost exponential increase in population in much of the world, this probability remains to haunt us.

The prospect is particularly poignant in developing nations where Chinese-style population control remains absent, urban sprawl is the norm, and drought – a side effect of climate change – seems to be both more persistent and more devastating.

This water risk, mapped by the World Resources Institute, shows a broad band of extremely high risk along the equator, with another band of risk at about the 30th-36th parallel south, or below the Tropic of Capricorn. Another much smaller band exists about the same distance north of the equator.

Science to the Rescue

There is good news, globally at least. Since 2003, forests have spread to take up, or sequester, four billion additional tonnes of carbon from fossil fuel burning. These forests, however, are acutely sensitive to water stress, just as the old ones were. If drought persists in 2016, much of this “green gain” could be wiped out. Even in China, where gains are the direct result of reforestation, a second dry year can erase not only the future benefits of this restoration, but make further efforts futile.

That is the problem with a forest. It is fragile. It depends on so many circumstances, not just water. It takes at least ten years to reach maturity. In the meantime, existing forests only take up about half the carbon (CO2) emitted by manufacturing, transportation, power generation and housing. The rest still goes into the atmosphere and oceans, giving global warming an even firmer hold on earth’s climate.

Fortunately, science is working to help Nature adapt to human occupation. ecoLogicStudio, a next-generation architectural design firm, has developed an urban algae canopy that can ostensibly produce as much oxygen as about 10 acres, or four hectares (40,000 square meters) of land. In addition, like any other plant, the algae take up CO2!

In the belief that their canopy will reunify cities and wild spaces – creating what inventors call “the new Nature” – ecoLogic offers a structure that uses three layers of ETFE (ethylene tetrafluorethylene) film to create the canopy. Though not as ecofriendly as glass, ETFE is extremely lightweight, making it ideal for large applications. It is also highly transparent and durable.

The engineering is complicated. Not only will the canopy regulate water flow, energy capture and CO2 based on weather patterns and visitors’ movements, it will also support more than 300 pounds (150 kilograms) of green mass, 60 percent of that natural vegetable protein which can serve as food.

Climate Change Mitigation and a Food Source

Is this vegetable protein, also known as seaweed, good to eat? In many Asian nations, seaweed is a favorite – even where other foods are equally affordable. Not only is it full of vitamins, minerals from the sea, and protein, but algae comes in many shapes, flavors and textures, one of which is sure to please even the pickiest palate. My favorite is a pickled (or fermented) variety that looks and tastes like French-cut green beans in vinaigrette sauce!

You can buy algae dried into rounds or strips, but why would you? Nothing tastes quite as good as fresh. As with any fresh vegetable, however, proper storage is essential: whole food store packaging is usually designed for same-day preparation. If you plan to wait a day, or store leftovers, choose eco-friendly, recycled plastic containers or flexible, compostable plastic bags. Stainless steel, while the ideal choice, may interact with the salts in seaweed.

Algae Canopies in Cities – Even On the Moon!

Given its ability to provide oxygen and food to crowded cities, and to absorb carbon to reduce the effects of climate change, the algae canopy seems like a great idea. More, important, futurists can see it becoming a vital element of life support on potential space colonies, like the one(s) planned by Sir Richard Branson, of Virgin Galactic fame.

I wouldn’t mind one in my house. Once the engineering is established, an algae canopy has to be easier to care for than two or three dozen houseplants, none of which is edible. The acre’s worth of oxygen from a room-sized canopy (clearly more than my plants can generate) would be a blessing compared to the stagnant indoor air resulting from closed windows and expensive heating or cooling. The food supply … well, who can argue with green food literally at one’s fingertips?

In fact, imagine a day when each new home comes with not only geothermal heat, solar panels, passive lighting and permeable paving on the outside, but a room-sized algae canopy!

Now that is living green!


This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Politically Green, The Air We Breathe and was tagged with algae, canopy, carbon dioxide, CO2, drought, population control, seaweed, SUSTAINABLE, urban sprawl, water risk

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