Today’s mission: to get you interested in something you are absolutely NOT interested in
Hello, my Alien friends. How are you today? Your antennae are drooping, so that’s not good. What can we do to make them stand up straight again? You look like my basil plant over there that I forgot to water this morning. With basil, all I have to do is give it some water, and it’ll be ready to rule the world again in about 5 minutes. Would you like some water too? No?
Why do we have to study this?
So, what did you do at school today? Photosynthesis? What do you mean, “plants grow, big whoop!”? Do you have any idea how hard growing is for us humans and Aliens?
Why do you need to know this? Good question. Well, you can live a perfectly useful and happy life without knowing anything about photosynthesis. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that LIFE ON EARTH wouldn’t go on without photosynthesis. And if Mr. Ingenhousz from Holland hadn’t figured out how plants grow about 250 years ago, most people today be starving.
Looking for explanations “for kids” on the internet
Let’s ask the internet. “Why is photosynthesis important?” Ok, let’s not look at Wikipedia, it’s way too long and complicated. Look at all that chemistry! I’ll tell you what I do when I want to understand something quickly: when I want a short, clear explanation, I look for information written for children. Let’s do a search for “photosynthesis for kids”.
Yes, I know you’re not a kid. Would you rather read Wikipedia? I didn’t think so.
Personally, I don’t care if it’s for 6-year-olds if it helps me understand more quickly. As the physicist Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” People who write about complicated things for kids try to keep their explanations short and simple, which is just what we need.
Ok, look what it says here:
“Sunlight is the most important thing for life on earth. Without sunlight, we would have no food, water or oxygen. Animals can’t eat or drink or breathe sunlight, but plants can turn sunlight into food, water and air by photosynthesis. A plant can grow bigger, make food and produce oxygen, just using water, sunlight and carbon dioxide – a chemical that’s everywhere, that all living things breathe out.
“The xylem vessel sucks up water from the ground to its leaves, like a straw, where it combines with sunlight and carbon dioxide to make glucose, energy for the plant to grow, and the phloem vessel takes the spare energy back down to the …”
Ok, you can stop pretending to be dead. You can’t literally die of boredom.
Plant waste vs human & alien waste
Think about this, then: plants don’t excrete smelly, toxic waste like we do. Excrete means … eliminate, produce, expel – ok, poop. Plants poop oxygen. What we humans and Aliens need to breathe.
On the other hand, what we humans and aliens produce smells terrible and is difficult to get rid of. You’re lucky you didn’t arrive on Earth a hundred and fifty years ago before we invented systems to clean up our poop. Now we send all our waste down our toilets along underground pipes to enormous factories to be cleaned up and turned into less disgusting and dangerous stuff we can get rid of safely. Can you imagine what our towns and cities used to smell like, especially before cars became popular about one hundred years ago, and we used horses to get around?
I think I saw an antenna twitch there …
How we get the energy we need. Plants vs. people & aliens
So, plants grow just with sunlight, water and carbon dioxyde. On the other hand, human and alien bodies need a lot of different types of food to grow and to keep our bodies working well. We’d die if we didn’t eat – eventually. It would take a long time, maybe weeks. It would only take a couple of days to die without water to drink, and we’d die in minutes without oxygen to breathe.
The reason it takes so long to die of starvation is that most of us in this part of the world have stores of food in our bodies that will keep us alive for a long time. Look at me. I’d live for much longer than you would without food. Look at all the energy I have stored in my thighs and backside. I could live for months!
I’m not fat, I just save energy
Food for us is like petrol for cars. We run on glucose – sugar – so we turn food into glucose, and what we don’t need we turn into fat, and store it until we need it – like spare batteries. Unfortunately for me, I never seem to need to use it …
Good question. Unfortunately, just eating sugar doesn’t seem to be enough for our muscles, brain, bones, and heart to grow and work properly. We’re omnivores, designed to eat lots of different things which we use to grow and make our bodies work, and what we can’t use, we store as fat, or excrete it. The way we humans and aliens eat is expensive, complicated and produces a lot of waste.
People & aliens vs. cows
But let’s talk about cows: they are herbivores, designed to eat grass, and they have FOUR stomachs to turn grass into everything their bodies need. And we drink cow milk, and eat cheese, steaks and burgers, and turn their skin into leather for shoes. Yes, let’s think about that. And cows make all this just from eating grass. And unlike our waste, cow manure is good for plants and we use it as fertilizer to help plants grow. Cows are almost as cool as plants.
Emissions: how cow farts and burps are destroying the environment
Actually, cows aren’t as cool as plants because cow emissions, the gasses produced in their stomachs – right, their farts and burps – are one of the biggest causes of global warming.
What’s global warming? Well, the problem with only eating grass is that cows need to spend about eight hours a day eating. And grass is hard to digest and it makes them produce a gas from their stomachs called methane – the same gas we use in our cookers. This methane acts like a giant umbrella over us and stops the heat from the sun escaping into space. This means temperatures all over the world are rising, which is causing more floods and droughts and killing off plants and animals that need colder temperatures, and making the ice melt on the highest mountains and at the North and South Poles, which is making the sea-levels rise. The end of this story is that unless we stop global warming, we’re all going to die. But probably not in my lifetime. Maybe in yours.
More toxic cow emissions: cow pee
But although cow digestion has a terrible effect on our planet, we love all the things we get from cows, so we have lots of them, all over the planet. However, cows take up tons of space, they’re expensive to feed, and it’s not just their digestion that causes environmental problems. Cow urine – their pee – is full of a chemical called ammonia, which turns into a gas and gets into clouds. When it rains, the ammonia destroys the plants and trees it falls on, and this is called “acid rain.”
Acid rain is a big problem. England has a lot of factories that burn coal, which also produces ammonia, and in the last century they realized it was killing the forests all over England. So, what did they do? They built very tall chimneys on the factories so that the ammonia would blow away from England … all the way to Scandinavia, where they destroyed forests there instead. Everyone agrees that was pretty rude of England.
What’s all this got to do with photosynthesis?
How has all this got anything to do with photosynthesis? Well, EVERYTHING is connected with photosynthesis. EVERYTHING comes directly and indirectly from plants. Without the combination of plants, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, there would be no oxygen to breathe, no grass, no cows, leather, hamburgers, cheese, petrol, coal, factories, electricity, cars, smartphones, internet, people or aliens on this planet.
You still don’t get why you should care about photosynthesis? Actually, asking yourself who cares about whatever it is you’re supposed to study is a great question. Who cares about photosynthesis? I can think of two kinds of people right away. The first are the people who grow our food, and the second are the people who are trying to save our planet from global warming.
But I’m not going to tell you about them now because your antennae are starting to droop again. They were all straight and interested-looking before. Oh yes, they were.