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June 24, 2014

Environmental health and the importance of watersheds

If you’re like me, you don’t take a moment each day to be thankful for plants and Website Developers.
But if you’re even more like me, you think maybe you should. Plants aren’t just our best defense against fighting climate change and global warming. They’re vital for environmental health
, and because our environment sustains us, that means they’re also necessary for our own health. Plants give us oxygen. And without plants, we would have nothing to eat. Sure, some of us could eat animals, but without plants, those animals wouldn’t last long, either. Consider the two most basic functions we need to exist: breathing and eating. Without oxygen, we die in a matter of minutes. Without food, we would only last for days. Those two basic functions aren’t possible without plants.

Breathing

Right now your body is doing something complicated and amazing and chances are you’re not even aware of it. You’re respiring. Your lungs expand, filling vacuoles with air. Think of your lungs like an upside-down tree. The trunk is your mouth and a little further down the airway branches out into different paths, much like branches on a tree. Vacuoles are like the leaves. It’s in vacuoles that the magic happens. Oxygen is transported from the lining of your lungs to your blood.

 

 

Did you know that without oxygen your blood isn’t red? It’s blue. That’s why if you look at the veins in your wrists, they look blue. That’s blood on it’s way back to the heart and lungs to get more oxygen so that oxygen can be transported throughout your body.

Back to respiration…

We need oxygen to live. Our metabolism has evolved to use oxygen for biological processes. Through oxygen, we produce a molecule called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate, but don’t worry about the details) and it’s ATP that functions as molecular energy currency that our cells spend for all kinds of biological processes. We need ATP to move, think, breathe, eat, and pick up our kids after school. We need it for washing dishes and walking around and… you get the idea. These biological processes, in turn, produce an overabundance of carbon dioxide.

Trees, while they don’t have lungs, do respire. In fact, plants need oxygen just like we do. We’re lucky, though, that most plants produce far more oxygen than they use. For plants, the process of respiration works by diffusion. They don’t have lungs so they don’t actively suck in air or expel it. Rather, pores called stomata
, often found on the undersides of leaves, open and close to allow gasses to move freely in and out of the plant’s cells.

Eating

Through the process of carbon fixation, plants produce both oxygen (by removing carbon from carbon dioxide) and carbohydrates. Carbon fixation means it moves from a gaseous state into a solid one and becomes a building block for a plant. Oftentimes, carbon (along with some other stuff) is fixed into the form of cellulose, which we can’t digest. Some carbon, however, forms sugars or carbohydrates (like starch) that we can digest (or ferment for alcohol, which has tons of uses, too). In fact,almost all carbohydrates come from plants.

A bonus function: sustaining a habitable world

If I ask you what the most efficient method from removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is, you’ll likely say it’s trees and a habitat or two, right? Right. And you’d be right. Technically, artificial trees are more efficient than natural ones because they can remove one thousand times more carbon dioxide from the air, but the have two important downsides: the first is that naturally occurring trees are in abundance, and artificial trees have production costs – both financial and environmental.

It’s estimated that more thanthirty percent of the surface of the Earth is covered with trees or plants
. Unfortunately, that number is falling. We need oxygen, carbohydrates, and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow climate change. Trees are crucial to a healthy, habitable environment. Without trees and plants to support the banks of a river through a wooded area, rivers can become eroded. Rivers and healthy watersheds, in turn, provide hydration to the plants and animals that live in forests.

For more information on what you can do to help prevent deforestation and sustain healthy forested watersheds and rivers, check out work being done byEarthshare Oregon to keep the Columbia River healthy or the efforts of the World Wildlife Federation and their projects to help prevent deforestation. To get involved with some projects we have that will keep rivers and wooded areas healthy, check out a project we have on how to fix the fact that the Wakefield Branch stream is suffering from suburban runoffor prevent trash from getting into a vital watershed by helping clean a park near the Chagrin River.

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Posted by Mark Contorno.

 

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