The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Thursday 27 June 2024

Asthmatic Earth

When we (humans) breathe we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Trees do exactly the opposite. Via the process of photosynthesis, trees “inhale” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen. This cycle is crucial to our life on this planet.

This process often has trees and forests metaphorically characterised as the lungs of the world.

Normally, when we are healthy, our breathing is a relatively quiet activity. However, when we get sick or develop a disease of some sort, especially one that affects our lungs, we cough. Coughing is a symptom of some illness.

What if trees get sick? What if the normal process of photosynthesis becomes diseased?

Do trees also “cough”?

It seems that – metaphorically at least – they do?

A study released in November 2023 by a team of earth and planetary scientists from Pennsylvania State University reveals a disturbing trend. When trees get stressed by high temperatures and/or limited water then the process of photosynthesis gets impeded, and a reverse process commences.1

This reverse process, known as photorespiration, means that trees no longer take up carbon dioxide; rather they begin to send CO2 back into the atmosphere.

The lead author of the study, Max Lloyd (Assistant Research Professor of Geosciences) says that “Trees in warmer, drier climates are essentially coughing instead of breathing.”

This is a worrying condition. Continuous coughing in humans can be a sign of asthma. To stretch the analogy of trees breathing a little further we might ask: Is the Earth becoming asthmatic?

There is no known cure for human asthma. Is there one for an asthmatic Earth?

Not likely.

Plants and trees presently absorb around 25% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans. If these “lungs” become diseased, and the world becomes “asthmatic” then the ability of trees to absorb this carbon dioxide will diminish.

Consequently, a positive feedback loop in the carbon cycle of Earth becomes established. Humans pump CO2 into the atmosphere, trees absorb that, thus sequestering it. But now, a positive feedback loop gets launched, whereby trees no longer sequester the CO2 – they contribute to the rising emissions. This form of “positivity” is not good for trees, it is not good for humans, it is not good for Earth.

Just as asthma sufferers worldwide find ways to cope with asthma, so will we as a species have to find ways to cope with an increasingly asthmatic world.


1. Max K. Lloyd et al., Isotopic clumping in wood as a proxy for photorespiration in trees, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2023, accessed 25 June 2024.

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