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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

For Climate Change Mitigation: Imperative of Mass Action Programmes of Bamboo Plantation and Algae Culture

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The following are some thoughts penned by the author on the World Environment Day which was observed on June 5.

India’s national Capital city and some other mega cities are now going through a tremendous heat wave, which have few parallels in these cities’ history. Amid this horrid indicator that a catastrophic climate change has indeed been taking place, the country observed the Environment Day by passively resolving to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that have been trapping heat within the lower regions of the Earth’s atmosphere, without even chalking out the outline of any mass action programme. Most of our people have come to believe that reduction in the emission of GHGs depends on (i) the scientists’ and technologists’ ability to develop simple devices for harnessing cost-effectively the renewable forms of energy, and (ii) the political leadership’s willingness to invest funds on their mass-scale manufacture to bring down their costs to the common people’s income levels.

But, in Nature’s order, there are some ways that have freed man from depending wholly on new man-made technologies. Search for these ways led to the discovery of (i) the bamboo forest’s capacity for donating more oxygen than the forest of comparable size of hardwood forests, and (ii) the algae’s unique capacity for sequestering carbon and producing large quantities of oxygen. Akshay Urja, the journal of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, in its February 2009 issue, published an excellent article, co-authored by Priyaranjan Sinha and Rajesh Bajpai, which points out that the bamboo, which is the world’s loftiest grass and a non-wood plant, and is called the “tree for environmental protection, source of nutrient foods, high-value construction material, source of fibre and pulp for paper, the prime source for rural people’s income”, deserves to be called poverty alleviator. The article further points out that “in tensile strength, the bamboos are superior to mild steal: they bend in strong winds but rarely break. In weight-to-strength ratio, these are superior to graphite”. Moreover, bamboos are perhaps the fastest-growing plants. There are some varieties of bamboo which grow at the rate of 5 cm per hour or 1.5 metres a day. In versatility, it has no match among terrestrial plants.

In the light of these findings, the highest priority should be given to nationwide re-plantation of this highly beneficial plant, both for climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation.

In India, the North-Eastern States are the richest in bamboos’ diversity and stocks. The Western Ghats are the second best. In Kerala, in earlier times, every village had its forest dominated by bamboos, and virtually every household had its home garden of bamboos. Entry of European businessmen in India’s export trade led to the over-exploitation of this species; and in course of time, bamboos became scarce so much so that during the last three centuries, bamboos got dislodged from all high-value uses. A nationwide campaign for their re-plantation should, therefore, be on the agenda not only on the Environment Day but on all suitable days.

The culture of micro-algae should be another item of mass action programme. Alga is the Latin word for sea weed. And sea weeds are the most prolific producers of oxygen on this planet.

Algae are non-flowering aquatic plants which are both autotrophic and photosynthetic. These are autotrophic because these produce organic substances for their own nutrition from the carbon dioxide dissolved in water. As carbon sequestrians these have no parallel. As photo-synthetics, these are also largest producers of oxygen. Possibly, no other organism on this planet has a combination of these two qualities of autotrophism and photosynthesis. Hence these are unique gifts of Nature.

A major problem is that algae vary hugely in lineage. Most are microscopic in size and single-celled; many are multicellular and “some are as large as the giant kelps which can grow to 65 metres in length”. These large variations make things more complicated. Even researchers find it difficult to know which genera of algae are the most productive. Even to identify which micro-algae belongs to which genus seems difficult.

In the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at Delhi, there is a Division for Environ-mental Sciences which does research on algae. But their research, so far, has remained confined to laboratories. They need to develop the expertise to guide the famers in the culture of algae in the village ponds in all suitable agro-climatic regions and also to supply the inoculum thereof.

Putting these two together will be investing real substance to the observance of the World Environment Day.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

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