Harnessing the Biosphere to Mitigate Global Climate Change and Sea Level Rise


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The planetary ice cover, from Himalayan glaciers to Arctic sea ice, is shrinking at much higher rates than anticipated by climate models, presumably due to feedback processes amplifying the rate of global warming and sea-level rise. All these developments will affect humans in different ways whereby substantial sea-level rise and resultant large-scale population displacement is certainly going to happen; the question is only when and how much time can we buy. In view of the dangers looming on the horizon it is advisable to take steps, not only to prepare for the new realities to come but also to mitigate the rate of warming by curbing emissions and removing as much as possible of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere which is already causing problems. There is no quick and simple solution to CO2 removal, rather, it will be necessary to implement a broad range of measures of which harnessing the biosphere, of both the land (biochar burial) and the ocean (iron fertilisation), hold some promise. There is evidence that fluctuating productivity levels of the Southern Ocean played a major role in sequestering and releasing CO2 during past glacial to interglacial cycles. Increasing productivity of this ocean by fertilising with iron will not have a big effect on atmospheric CO2 levels but the potential uptake is too much to ignore at this stage. In any case, further iron fertilisation experiments will be necessary to explore the pros and cons of harnessing the marine biosphere to slow the rate of sea level rise. The challenge ahead is to reorganise the global economy in a recycling mode as this is the only way to reduce emissions, preserve dwindling resources and mitigate calamitous climate change. The incentive to embark on this momentous task will come from educating the public on the present and future state of the planet. As the oldest continuous civilisation, India has a number of lessons to teach the world on how to lead a sustainable way of life while preserving the environment. To this end, the economic structure of pre-colonial India needs to be systematically researched and the appropriate lessons distilled for promulgation. Popularisation of the Indian vegetarian cuisine is an example of a measure that would reap immediate benefits in terms of human health, emissions reductions and restoration of natural ecosystems. This essay is addressed to the general reader, hence thorough referencing has been sacrificed on the altar of readability.


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