Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sri Lankan Fulbright journey: Carbon sequestration and a Modest Proposal

We've come to understand how important forests are in moderating carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and ameliorating global climate change. 

Photosynthetic organisms break down carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon for cellular energy and creating structural molecules like cellulose. 

It's this cellulose, the ubiquitous component of all plant cells, which "sequesters" or stores carbon. Woody parts of plants do the same thing. The stored carbon in wood is effectively taken out of play, thereby taken out of the atmosphere, until a log is burnt or rotted away. 

It's the stored carbon in plants that transforms into coal and oil. So "fossil fuels," before they're burnt for energy, are another form of sequestered carbon. 

Petroleum by-products are used for manufacturing plastics. And that is the more-than-slightly ironic point of this post. If the carbon in fossil fuels is repurposed into non-biodegrading material like plastic, can we reimagine plastic as a beneficial material in the struggle to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere?

If nearly inert plastic sequesters carbon, as I suggest here with tongue in cheek, then my guesthouse here in Colombo may be in the vanguard of eco-warriors. Gotta love how Sri Lankans use plastic plants everywhere, here where greenery and abundant photosynthesis was invented!

Many fake plants, many Christmas decorations, and a modest proposal. 

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