Saw first part of a terrific tv documentary (How to grow a planet) on the history of plant life on Earth the other night. Struck me that the first episode should be compulsory viewing for every one of the seven billion people I share this planet with. It showed how this ball of sterile, and extremely inhospitable rock we call home was actually turned into a habitable place by plants. Habitable not just for us but for all the other animals we are related to. The first primitive one-celled plants began to generate oxygen, later ones helped to break down rocks, generate more oxygen, began to create an atmosphere protecting us from UV rays. First marine animals were able to eat plants as food. Plants coming on to land paved the way for first land animals. First advanced trees with roots began to break down rocks even further and create soil (there had been no soil). Their shading of the ground helped other plants to establish, shelter formed for animals. Their recycling of water formed clouds and resulted in rain. The deeper roots of trees brought up nutrients from far underground. And so on.
In short then, what we take for granted as a planet on which the living is easy is totally dependent for its benign environment on the plants that cover its surface, from the simple algae in the water to the complex giant trees, and all the plants in between. If a plague of some virus that killed all organisms with chlorophyll erupted, and plants disappeared, animals, including human animals, would be gone a very short time afterwards as the planet went back to being an inhospitable hot rock.
If a plague sounds a bit unlikely, what if one of the organisms, evolved quite recently on this benign planet, decided, inexplicably (the idea is crazy of course), to start large-scale clearing of plants? What if people were logging and clearing forests or sending in hunters and trail bikes? What if grasslands were overgrazed, over fertilised, monocultures, being damaged by fracking? What if “National Park” was merely a synonym for “Exploit Later”? What if marine vegetation was being damaged by run-off full of chemicals, and by rising sea temperatures? What if increasing CO2 levels and temperatures were beginning to damage all plant life?
All of the animals that were evolving in the last 5 million years or so alongside Humans did so in a world whose characteristics had been established by the plants that they lived on and among. Those characteristics of soil, water, temperature range, indeed the very air itself, essential to human and other animals, are not the result of some fixed aspect of this planet Earth, but have been developed over billions of years by plants. Damage extensively, remove completely, the ecosystems containing those plants, and we are sending the Earth back towards its natural status as a barren rock incapable of maintaining life.
Probably not the wisest choice, eh?