Plants, animals, and climate change

Mannequin torso and blue wall

For decades, environmentalists have been concerned about both the extinction of countless animal species and the progression of climate change. Recent research, however, suggests that the former is a partial antidote to the latter. Not only does the widespread elimination of animal species from all different types of ecosystems reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with respiration, it also eliminates the harm that would otherwise have been done to carbon-absorbing plants. In the absence of animals, plants grow larger, live longer, and take longer to decompose.

Of course, approaches that damage both carbon-sucking plants and carbon- and methane-belching animals risk being counterproductive, as is the destruction of forests in Latin America and Asia. What has been proposed is the adoption of mechanisms that reduce animal biomass while preserving that of plants. Dr. Aprile Pazzo, a researcher from Columbia University, has suggested that the development of lethal viruses targeted specifically at species that do particular damage to plants might be an effective mechanism for mitigation. While viruses may be an effective pathway for delivering the pathogen to smaller animals that live across large ranges, more rapid and cost-effective options exist for animals like elephants and rhinos, which can consume 150 to 250kg worth of plant matter every day. For such easy to spot, high-plant-matter consuming species, aerial hunting is probably the best option, particularly given bilateral Congressional support for the practice in the United States. Another alternative, she suggests, could be the use of enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs) to kill animals across large areas through the use of ionizing radiation. Of course, any resulting fires would need to be promptly extinguished, before they destroyed too much forest.

A further benefit of such schemes, beyond reduced carbon emissions, is a projected increase in the oxygen content of the atmosphere: aiding the breathing of those with lung conditions, increasing the excitement of Olympic and major league shorts, and producing more spectacular fireworks displays. The plan will also produce millions of ‘green jobs’ as human beings take over the task of pollinating flowering plants from the insects, birds, and bats that primarily do so now.

Some have objected to these proposals on the basis that they will likely encourage the proliferation of vegetarian diets, as human beings find themselves in a biosphere increasingly dominated by just themselves, fungi, and plants. Others have objected to the Pazzo plan’s suggestion that global emissions might be reduced by up to 2% through program of voluntary pet euthanasia. Plans to eliminate microorganisms dependent upon aerobic cellular respiration have also come under criticism from conservation groups, who argue that human beings do not have the exclusive right to break down pyruvic acid from glycolysis, fully oxidizing it through the use of the Krebs cycle.

In addition to supporting plans to shift the biosphere balance in the direction of plants, Dr. Pazzo’s support for novel forms of carbon capture and storage also remains undiminished.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

11 thoughts on “Plants, animals, and climate change”

  1. *phew*

    I thought that my habit of poisoning squirrels for fun would go over badly with the green team.

    Now, I can double my dosage of strychnine *with* the support of my peers!

  2. Another alternative, she suggests, could be the use of enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs) to kill animals across large areas through the use of ionizing radiation.

    Don’t forget to nuke the whales.

  3. Actually, this could be a good way for people to offset their carbon footprints. Just come up with a list of animals and their associated CO2 production. Then, people can just kill that animal and consider their annual emissions neutralized.

    The average Cambodian might have to kill a badger, whereas someone from Turkey would need to kill a lion. Killing a bear might be sufficient for someone from Portugal, but a German would need to off a bison, at least. A rhino should be sufficient for Canadians, Australians, and Qataris, though there will not be enough to go around.

  4. This post is a weird follow-up on the previous reproductive abstention post. Humans after all are probably the best animal to target here…

  5. Another climate-related April Fools joke:

    Farewell to our Readers
    Filed under: * Climate Science

    We would like to apologize to our loyal readers who have provided us so much support since we first went online in December 2004. However, after listening to the compelling arguments of the distinguished speakers who participated in the Heartland Institute’s recent global warming contrarian conference, we have decided that the science is settled — in favor of the contrarians. Indeed, even IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri has now admitted that anthropogenic climate change was a massive hoax after all. Accordingly, RealClimate no longer has a reason for existence.

  6. The Sheep Albedo Feedback

    The already-reeling “consensus” supposedly linking climate change to CO2 is about to receive its final coup-de-grace from a remarkable new result announced in a press conference today by Dr. Ewe Noh-Watt of the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology [1]. Noh-Watt and his co-workers, describing work funded by a generous grant from the Veterinary Climate Science Coalition, declared “We have seen the future of climate — and it is Sheep.” Prof. Jean-Belliere Poisson d’Avril, star student of Claude Allegro Molto-Troppo (discoverer of the Tropposphere) reacted with the words, “Parbleu! C’est la meilleure chose depuis les baguettes tranchées!”

    The hypothesis begins with the simple observation that most sheep are white, and therefore have a higher albedo than the land on which they typically graze (see figure below). This effect is confirmed by the recent Sheep Radiation Budget Experiment. The next step in the chain of logic is to note that the sheep population of New Zealand has plummeted in recent years. The resulting decrease in albedo leads to an increase in absorbed Solar radiation, thus warming the planet. The Sheep Albedo hypothesis draws some inspiration from the earlier work of Squeak and Diddlesworth [2] on the effect of the ptarmigan population on the energy balance of the Laurentide ice sheet. Noh-Watt hastens to emphasize that the two hypotheses are quite distinct, since the species of ptarmigan involved in the Squeak-Diddlesworth effect is now extinct.

  7. “The plan will also produce millions of ‘green jobs’ as human beings take over the task of pollinating flowering plants from the insects, birds, and bats that primarily do so now.”

    I can’t see this going over very well with newly unemployed blue collar workers: “I spent thirty years assembling cars, now they’ve got me tranferring pollen between Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert. What do I look like, a Lesser Long-nosed Bat?”

  8. I feel very dumb because I did believe this was some sort of weird scheme from another geo-engineering mad scientist. That tells you as much about my gullibility than about my disdain from some of the wacko geo-engineering ideas around…

    In the Summer of 2006 I was listening to a podcast from the CBC radio show Quirks and Quarks on the bus and heard a story about a small animal in the vietnamese jungle that pooped limestone pellets and therefore was sequestering carbon. Since I was on the bus I did not get the full story but though the discovery was weird enough to be told to most of my friends at various parties. A few months later, a biologist friend of mine asked me for some kind of reference because he simply did not believe me (who could blame him?). I searched online and discovered that it was an April fools’ broadcast and felt very very very stupid. That segment of the show can be found at: http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/05-06/apr01.html#5

  9. I was trying to make fun of two things with this post:

    1) The willingness of human beings to kill all other animals to avoid changes in their lifestyles

    2) The way in which insane ideas can seem plausible when expressed in the language of science journalism.

  10. Rather than killing whales, it seems possible that we should be milking them:

    Milking whales on a commercial scale ‘not impossible’

    Whale milk could provide a nutritious alternative to cows’ milk, according to marine researchers – and is feasible on commercial scales.

    Milking whales on an industrial scale would free-up agricultural land for more crops, says the international team of scientists from the Marine Research Institute, Mid Glamorgan and the Nederlands Instituut voor Mariene Wetenschappen.

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