Nature’s Energy Management
Through photosynthesis plants store solar energy, combining inorganic molecules of carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and airborne vapor into more complex, organic sugar molecules. The sugars form the bodies of plants and serve as food for animals.<!— Image on right side of page —>
Through photosynthesis plants store solar energy, combining inorganic molecules of carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and airborne vapor into more complex, organic sugar molecules. The sugars form the bodies of plants and serve as food for animals.
Plants and animals use the energy stored in their cells to do the work of synthesizing macromolecules — like proteins, carbohydrates, RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) — essential for all known forms of life. RNA has various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulating, and expressing genes. DNA is our genetic material. Every time a cell makes a copy of itself, it also copies the organism’s DNA. Without such copies there would be no genetic information to pass on to the next generation.
The DNA, which defines organisms as unique individuals, is synthesized at the cellular level — the lowest, most distributed level of every organism —, even though this synthesis presupposes a thorough “knowledge of” our systemic whole. Every cell possesses all the information needed to autonomously recreate our whole organism. This is the opposite of the top-down, hierarchic model of most human enterprises, (businesses, churches, governments) — an interesting lesson of nature to contemplate.
Plants and animals also perform electrical work essential for sensing and reacting to our environment. We are, in effect, electrically operated machines. Each cell has an electric potential, or voltage, which helps control the movement of ions across cell membranes. For example, our nerves generate electrical impulses, which relay information to the brain or carry signals from the brain to initiate muscle movement. Moving a muscle is, of course, work that requires energy. The source of all this ready-to-expend energy in animal and plant bodies is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a high-energy molecule present in cells.
All living things utilize freely available and plentiful solar energy to create highly structured, energy-rich molecules that sustain life. In contrast, human enterprises burn “fossil fuels” for energy, thus breaking down highly ordered hydrocarbons into greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor, warming the biosphere. While other organisms busily create sustainable structure and order, humans pile disorder and waste on our world.
Our economic system is destructive of life on earth. Our economic model demands unfettered growth; our life sustaining climate needs a reduction in our use of resources. Only one of these demands can be changed, and it is not the laws of nature.
Case in point: the huge wildfire around Fort McMurray, in Alberta’s tar sands region. Higher temperatures evaporate moisture out of live and dead vegetation, making it more flammable. The heat also alters precipitation patterns, and causes spring thaws to come earlier – lengthening the wildfire season. A 1ºC climb in global average temperature can cause a six-fold increase in the median area of the North American West burned annually by wildfires.
Some brag about our “better than any other” economic system. How so when, like a spoiled heir, we merely squander our planet's accumulated energy heritage, even though better alternatives abound?