Science & Solutions

FORESTS 

Forests have a variety of uses for us human beings. We are used to getting our timber, fodder, food, even medicines from nearby forests. However, forests play other equally beneficial roles; they provide us the air we need to breathe; they help keep the soil rich and stable; and as part of the water cycle, they help provide water. These benefits are known as ecosystem services.

 The earth’s atmosphere is made of oxygen, carbon and nitrogen gases. Each breath that we take in is made up of oxygen. When we breathe out, we exhale carbon dioxide. Trees do the opposite of what we do; they take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. As human populations grow and as each country develops faster and faster, forests are needed to transform the growing carbon (from our breath, from cars, from electricity, and so on) into oxygen. Moreover, since trees absorb and hold water for long periods, forests provide a lot of moisture in the air. When this moisture evaporates, it doesn’t disappear, but condenses into clouds which eventually result in rain. This is why forests help control floods and can regulate water flow in the area. And, trees are able to reduce soil erosion because their roots are able to keep large amounts of soil in place. This is especially important in the mountain areas of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau where there are a lot of floods and landslides.   As pollution and climate change continue to rise and create negative conditions, managing our forests is one of our few chances of restoring a natural balance. 

What can we do?

The most useful activity any of us can do to help the earth and benefit the environment is to plant trees.

WATER 

Whether liquid or ice, steam or stream, there is only so much water on this planet and over 97% of it is salt water. Of the 2.5% of freshwater, less than 1% is available for us to use directly. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, and underground reservoirs which often supply natural springs. The rest of it is locked in the icecaps and glaciers of the world.  The water cycle refers to the process of how water is created and how it moves on Earth. The sun, which drives the water cycle, causes water in oceans, rivers and lakes to warm up and evaporate into the air. This water vapor is usually carried by air currents into the atmosphere, where as the temperature gets higher and cooler, the vapor solidifies and transforms into clouds. Precipitation occurs when the clouds collide or drift into warmer temperatures, thus resulting in rain. Some precipitation falls as snow and replenishes ice caps and glaciers. Some of it penetrates deep into the ground and replenishes under water aquifers. And, some of it replenishes oceans, rivers and lakes.

Waterflow Illustration

Waterflow Illustration

What can we do?

Many of our rivers and lakes are extremely polluted. We need to make sure that the waste disposal method in our area does not consist of throwing garbage into the rivers. Remember that river may provide life for millions of people downstream. We should plant reeds and vegetation near the banks of rivers, lakes and ponds, so that the freshwater ecosystem has the chance to heal and cleanse itself. We must conserve water in our own monasteries, centers and households – fixing dripping taps, reusing water and minimizing water waste.

  • For those of you interested in setting up rooftop water harvesting programs, here are more detailed instructions: RainwaterHowTo

GREENHOUSE EFFECT & CLIMATE CHANGE

The Greenhouse Effect refers to the heating of the Earth’s surface caused by the entrapment of gases within our atmosphere.  Our earth is wrapped by an atmospheric layer  containing gases which absorb and emit heat and infrared energy.  This greenhouse layer has become more opaque as fossil fuel burning (coal, natural gas and so on) and deforestation have intensified in the last hundred years, thus adding more and more carbon to the greenhouse layer. The heat produced by the sun as well as by human activity is, in essence, trapped by the layer of green house gases , which absorb much of the heat and infrared radiation and bounce it back on to the earth’s surface.

Greenhouse Illustration

Greenhouse Illustration

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