Where would we be without plants?
Most people do not think of plants very often, myself included. They are not going anywhere, and I always seem to forget about them until that magical day in May when the buds arrive again.
Although they seem like they are not doing anything. Below the surface, plants are a bustling, coordinated factory, on which we depend on for virtually everything in our lives.
Now, you might be confused as to why I am writing about plants in the first place. As a chemistry major, botany is definitely not a required course. I have a biology minor though, which requires botany as part of the introductory sequence. At first, I was not thrilled to take the class. I assumed that since plants were stationary, they were insignificant. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Botany is one of the most fascinating classes that I’m enrolled in currently. (Like did you know that roses don’t have thorns, they have prickles? What about that a banana is technically a berry, while a strawberry is not? Or that certain mosses can be used as bandages?) Despite all these bizarre trivia facts, I set out on a minor quest to see if and how plants are affected by climate change.
The simple answer is absolutely, but just how much? Factors such as changes in temperature, rainfall, or soil type all play an important role in how a plant functions and survives. As the temperature changes, the overall diversity of plants will decrease. Certain plants will not be able to adapt quick enough, and the current estimates suggest 1 in 5 plants are in danger of extinction. Other plants are losing their habitat, such as those in the artic, alpine regions, islands, and coastal species. As their homes disappear due to climate change, they could have nowhere to go (seeing as they can’t get up and walk somewhere new).
As more and more plants disappear due to the loss of habitat and temperature change, this will cause a domino effect on other species. All the plants you see are interdependent on one another, which animals use as food sources. If just one link is taken away, the whole system of plants and animals can come crashing down.
Now, some of you at this point are saying to yourself, “Why should I really care Nina?” and I completely understand (I’m also impressed you made it this far into my blog). The next important question then is how will changes in plants effect humans?
One of the easiest (and tastiest) places to begin is food. Most (if not all) of the food you eat is either a plant or has been fed by a plant. As global temperatures rise, we will have to cut back on certain foods and forget about some completely. These foods include corn (and the animals that eat it), coffee, chocolate, seafood, maple syrup, beans, cherries, and wine grapes.
Sadly, food is only one of the many plants we use in our daily lives. We use wood to build our houses, floors, cabinets, musical instruments, and for heat. We used certain herbs and plants as traditional medicines. We use plant fibers to make clothing, ropes, mats, baskets, hats, and cushioning. We use other plants for cosmetic purposes, such as shampoos, lotions, cleansing, hair dying, and perfumes.
Bottom line: we need plants.
Just as humans are taking action to reduce climate change, plants have pitched in to help take care of the Earth. Trees actually help reduce air pollution. They pull gases like ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide into their leaves and then chemically alter them so they are no longer dangerous to humans. In a sense, trees are really big filters. For those of you that like numbers, the US Forest Service and The Davey Institute performed a study and estimate that forests removed around 17.4 million tons of air pollution in 2010. This caused health care savings of $6.8 billion, and 850 human deaths were avoided.
In addition, genetically modified plants can literally vacuum up toxins from the ground. Certain poplar trees or grasses can be planted in areas where there are dangerous residues in the soil, particularly military explosives, and they will pull toxins out of the contaminated ground and water. Technically known as phytoremediation, this process is 10 times cheaper than other methods and much more aesthetically pleasing. This process has actually been implemented in areas all across the United States, especially in abandoned military bases. 3,000 trees were even planted in Muskegon, Michigan to remove hazardous chemicals from the ground and to prevent water runoff.
Plants are more than pretty: in a way, they take care of us. Climate change is a real issue that is taking place in this world at this time. I urge you to join me in taking small steps toward being more accountable for what happens to our world.
So where would we be without plants? We would be hungry, cold, sick, naked, uncomfortable, and smelly. I don’t know about you, but that sounds quite terrible to me. So take a stance, and do something to change the world around you.