Treehugger’s Dilemma

Photosynthesis is the Batman to Global Warming’s Joker.  Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into oxygen and sugar.  Environmentalists in Oregon have recognized this natural process as a vital component in monitoring the earth’s changing climate, and have started to strategically protect forests as “carbon sinks.”  Forests cannot store carbon indefinitely, though.  In a naturally functioning forest ecosystem, forests get burnt down by fire and re-grow healthier, because all the dead material impeding young growth is cleared away.  But in a forest functioning as a “carbon sink,” fires do the opposite of what environmentalists want the forest to do, by releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Therefore, workers clear dead and dry underbrush from the forests to prevent fires from occurring.  This interference with a natural process is a subject of debate in environmental circles.  Some scientists claim the fires should be allowed, because “only 5 percent of the total ecosystem carbon is going up in smoke.  When you talk about trying to prevent that, it’s not as big a carbon pulse to the atmosphere as people think.”  Others do not buy this statistic.  Some propose that different systems of regulation should be fabricated for each forest individually, by weighing the amount of carbon that would be released in a fire against the amount of carbon released trying to prevent a fire.

This has potential for being a pretty cool system.  Saving forests and reducing our effect on the atmosphere seems like a win-win situation.  But maybe this is too much interference.  By taking away wildfires, we are taking the wild and sublime away from an ecosystem.  Maybe it’s ok to do this, and the human presence will replace the need for fire.  Humans will become the new sublime force in nature.  I’d say it’s pretty safe to argue that humans are well on their way of becoming the sublime force of the world.  People can level whole forests with machinery to make way for development, and dam mighty rivers to harness electricity.  Scientists are even working on ways to control weather.  Is this wildfire prevention just another assertion that we are in fact sublime deities?  Who knows, but at least we’re protecting some forest from our other destructive habits.


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