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  • Talon Staff

Will the Golden State Rear a Golden Calf?

Humans are infamous for their pushes to industrialize, urbanize, and advance to the effect of depleting natural resources and endangering ecosystems. The greenhouse effect and its deadly products, including intensified weather phenomena and melting glaciers, speak to the scale—and cost—of human progress in the last few centuries. The impact of the climate crisis is far from uniform, however, and the aggressiveness of human development will not do to save the communities and countries it has weakened.

Quietly, algae produce upwards of half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Forests at large serve as carbon sinks, essentially sponges for carbon dioxide, and the Amazon rainforest for instance is renowned for its grandeur and capacity to absorb CO₂ that would otherwise contribute atmospheric greenhouse gasses. However, the Amazon now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs due to deforestation associated with human development, and algae persist with little fanfare as potent carbon sinks and oxygen factories. That being said, a particular microalgae is making waves in the scientific community: the diatom.

Diatoms are unicellular, photosynthetic algae tolerant of both saltwater and freshwater habitats. Independently, diatoms are responsible for an estimated twenty to twenty-five percent of global primary production, and they can carry excess carbon dioxide to a deep, watery grave in the process. As a result, more superficial, CO₂ sensitive aquatic organisms are spared from exposure and the diatom increasingly appears like an undervalued carbon sink.

In this regard, exploiting the CO₂ absorption of diatoms is a long term proposal as effective as it sounds. Resource exploitation and overdependence on fossil fuels created the climate crisis; further resource exploitation will not solve it. Nevertheless, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is conducting research into the capabilities for carbon absorption presented by the unique silica shells that give diatoms the name “living opals.” Established research indicates that under certain iron conditions, silica production changes and diatoms are more likely to clump together, sink, and take fixed carbon down with them. That being said, diatoms succeeded largely in silence.

If the scientific community hails a climate savior, what motivation will humans—and by extension corporations—have to question unsustainable practices?

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