Power plants

15 June 2011 § 9 Comments


From the air they softly suck the gas
That, one day, could kill us all.
Unseen, their chloroplasts
Surge and jostle to catch the sunlight:
Microscopic power stations
Blanketing the world,
Making fuel enough
To heat, light and move us
Six times over, while emitting only
The elements of life itself.
In due season
They seduce our senses courting bees
Then freely let their future fall
Into our waiting, hungry hands.
They have no voice
But that the breeze bestows;
No locomotion of their own, yet set
The earth itself astir,
Heaving, splitting – and, when they are gone,
Surrendering to gravity,
Water and the wind.
Without them, we would suffocate,
Starve, sleep unsheltered, till
We stumble to a sweating, shivering end.
This we know
And so
In labs, the white-coats burn through time and millions
In their attempts to do what Nature
Cracked a billion years ago.
While she continues, quiet and unremarked,
In every leaf and blade of grass.

Inspired by last night’s BBC documentary Botany – A Blooming History. Photosynthesis is so easy to take for granted, yet it’s the most fundamental process on earth. During the programme, they showed some leading-edge research being done at the University of Glasgow that’s aiming to reproduce photosynthesis in the laboratory. It’s important work, potentially unlocking unlimited sources of free, clean energy. The scientists are using electricity, platinum electrodes and all kinds of complex apparatus to separate water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Something the humblest plants have been doing, using nothing but sunlight, for a thousand million years, and we’re still decades away from fully understanding, let alone copying.

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§ 9 Responses to Power plants

  • slpmartin says:

    Just love that last stanza…we are still trying to replicate the natural process with only minimal success…well said here.

    • gonecycling says:

      Thank you, Charles – I was just struck by the sheer amount of expensive gear the scientists had, yet managed to produce only a tiny stream of bubbles. And that’s before they even begin trying to add CO2 and make carbohydrate the way plants do. It’s an everyday miracle, really. Thanks for your comment, as ever.

  • belfastdavid says:

    A poem Nick which inspired me to look up from my computer to the tree outside my window and regard it with more respect than I might normally do.

    Sadly through its branches I can still see cars on the road below doing something far more destructive to our atmosphere.

    Will we learn in time?


    • gonecycling says:

      I wish I knew the answer to your question, David; something tells me we probably won’t. I watched the scientists with slightly mixed feelings, actually: it seems as a society we’ll happily invest in hugely expensive research into alternative fuels – which may produce no results for decades, if at all – yet ignore the cheap, simple, instant thing we can do now, which is just use less conventional fuel. The ultimate triumph of consumerism and the market economy, perhaps: we’d rather buy an expensive, shiny, complicated answer than use the old, boring, obvious one right in front of us.

  • Ina says:

    It is a sad world, maybe solar energy will help a little? Wind energy? Good poem!

  • gonecycling says:

    Let’s hope, eh? Thanks for your comment, Ina.

  • westwood says:

    I’m waiting until they can genetically modify us to photosynthesize. That’ll do away with all the ethical eating dilemmas!

  • John Stevens says:

    I missed that programme but it must have been fascinating – clearly it was inspiring! I like the way you’ve mixed in some good straightforward science with the romance here.
    “No locomotion of their own, yet set the Earth itself astir … “. (And I like the last comment, from Westwood!)

    • gonecycling says:

      Thank you, John – it’s many years since I studied photosynthesis in any depth, so it was good revision, as well as great reminder of the invisible miracle going on around us all the time!

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