Plant Life

Plants and the atmosphere have greatly affected each other, and still do. For example, fire would destroy most vegetation if the oxygen content of the atmosphere were to increase from the present 20 per cent to be as high as 25 per cent. Then the reduced plant-life would result in decreased oxygen production, restoring the status quo. Conversely, if the oxygen concentration went down because of more carbon dioxide, the latter increase would accelerate photosynthesis, increasing the vegetation and hence oxygen creation, so that once again the status quo would be reestablished. In other words, the oxygen concentration appears to be held steady by the vegetation, automatically.

The interaction of vegetation and climate can be considered in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, first advanced by James Lovelock in 1972. He regarded the climate as part of a self-regulating global system, called Gaia, after a Greek Earth-goddess. The system includes living things and the environment, and these evolve in mutual interaction, in a way that appears to optimize conditions for living things. However, any regulatory ability of Gaia is now challenged by human activities such as air pollution, soil erosion, fossil-fuel burning, damming rivers, deforestation, acid rain and damage to the ozone layer. Most of these are discussed later in the book.

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