Sunday, May 23, 2010


The global climate change studies and predictions invariably focus on increased levels of CO2 in the environment and rise in temperature, both having far reaching impact on the life in this planet. The controversial report of the Inter country Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), though has some major errors in its treatise, still graphically illustrates the consequences of emissions of CO2 and other green house gases, if not controlled effectively. The Copenhagen Summit on climate change last year, is supposed to have addressed this critical issue for arriving at a possible global commitment for cutting down emissions dramatically in the coming years. It is another matter that the Summit ended up with achieving no concrete results. Only redeeming feature of the Summit was the voluntary commitments made by China and India in reducing emissions voluntarily by 40% and 25% by 2020 while the affluent nations, spewing out several times more green house gases, prevaricated on the issue reluctant to make any significant sacrifice on this issue.

One of the indirect consequences of increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, not comprehended by the climatologists, is the adverse impact it can have on quality and quantum of agricultural production in future. All living beings need proteins to grow and sustain and if CO2 has any adverse influence on protein production by the plants as being suspected, it can have catastrophic consequences on the future of this planet. Reduced food grain production can lead to increased starvation while depleted proteins in the food grains like wheat will tell upon the health of the population. One of the most startling findings coming out of the laboratories of scientists is that with increased levels of CO2, protein content could come down as much as 11%. As per the recorded documents, between 1800 and 2000 the CO2 levels in the atmosphere increased by 39% and by the end of this century it may further increase by 40-120% if remedial measures are not adopted immediately.

It has been demonstrated conclusively that in Mustard and Wheat plants, rising CO2 concentrations tend to decrease protein levels in the grains. Plants absorb nitrites applied as fertilizing agent through the root system to be converted into organic nitrogenous compounds of vital biochemical importance such as proteins. This process is retarded in presence of higher levels of CO2 and needs to be compensated by increased fertilization through supply of more of nitrites externally. Excess levels of nitrites, on the other hand can cause toxicity to the plants due to accumulation of Ammonia. Agricultural management will have to change to fine tune fertilizer application to keep up with CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

Elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere are known to decrease the rate of photorespiration that enables the plant to operate the naturally occurring chemical process responsible for combining oxygen with carbohydrates for generating energy for its growth and sustenance. Though a net reduction in photorespiration does contribute to increased photosynthesis, the effect does not last with the tapering of this activity at higher levels of CO2, adversely affecting the plant growth and productivity.

What will be consequences of such a change in the form of protein depletion in the food that is consumed by humans as well as the damaging vectors like insects and pests? Human beings may tend to eat more to derive the minimum protein needs as per the current nutrition norms and same applies to insects and pests also, the consequence of which will be the necessity to produce more foods in future. Already there are dire predictions that food production levels would fall well below the minimum needs of a growing population by 2050 with the attendant consequences of mass starvation in some parts of the world. Probably uncontrolled CO2 emission will aggravate this situation further. Increased acidity of ocean water because of higher sinking of CO2, consequent to rising levels of this gas in the atmosphere caused by human activity, is predicted to bring about destructive changes amongst marine life and availability of sea foods is likely to become critical due to this phenomenon. It is unfortunate that brunt of this catastrophe will have to be borne by the poor people of Africa, Asia and South America.


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