The Web of Life (84-11) Plants as Power Plants

Plants as Power Plants

Plants are the source of organic carbon – that is, are the food for almost all of the nonphotosynthetic organisms on Earth. ~ English botanist Alison Smith

A plant’s demise is a feast for the fungi and other saprovores that recycle plant matter and stored energy back into the ecosystem. Soil bacteria and a host of invertebrates involved in recycling depend upon these organic compounds, which are of a tremendous variety, and are integral to biomes in diverse ways.

Interdependence is not necessarily contemporaneous. Peat and coal – primary energy sources for polluting humans – are highly compressed ancient plant matter. Coal remains the largest energy source for electricity generation. Petroleum and natural gas too are derived from ancient biomass.

As humans deforest and dump their exhausts into the skies in prodigious quantities, the power of plants goes underappreciated. Each year plants absorb 100 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon, incorporating it into their own tissue.

This clears 8% of all CO2 in the air. The less foliage, the less scrubbing of the atmosphere.

Plants capture about 4% of the sunlight that beams down to Earth, equivalent to 100 terawatts (trillion watts) of power.

As an organic colony, Earth requires a sustained energy force. Extinction events have demonstrated that when the planet’s organic power plant and ecosystem resilience drop below a threshold, the Earth’s ecology becomes unstable – self-organized criticality in action.

Earth’s biotic power plant consists of plants, which also act as a bulwark of planetary stability. Their loss ensures death to animals.