教授约翰·Parham, Course Leader for the 艺术人文学科 研究硕士课程 和 英语马, talks to us about the cultural history of photosynthesis 

 

The first Covid lockdown, April 2020. A friend kindly posted us some pea seeds for our balcony. They produced a tiny, organic crop; we got a half portion each. We dried the few remaining stragglers, replanting them in 2021. I wasn’t particularly hopeful, but in a ceramic pot, as if from nowhere, shoots burst from the soil. This act is the ultimate statement of being. The poet Alice Oswald describes leaves unfurling in ‘a gradual fleshing out of a longing for light’. It’s the magic of photosynthesis 和 I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

豌豆植物

My partner tried to help me memorise the scientific formula for photosynthesis. 没有成功. Later, they scribbled it down. 在希腊餐馆, enjoying the food of a country where the sun is always let in, 硬币掉在了地上. 水 和 carbon dioxide, catalysed by sunlight acting on chlorophyll (the pigments which make plants green), produces a form of sugar called glucose. With a side order of oxygen.

Without plants, we’d have 不hing to eat. Without oxygen, a by-product of photosynthesis, we couldn’t 呼吸. An hour of sunlight falling on Earth is equivalent to the energy humans consume in a year. Utilising photosynthesis – through ingenious crops, 碳中性的生物燃料, carbon-capturing seagrass – could meet our dem和s forever while helping tackle climate change, 人口增长, 能源危机. Yet photosynthesis is under threat, from rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, 土地间隙, 森林火灾, 洪水和干旱.

母亲和孩子
Mother 和 Child, an artwork grown in grass, by Ackroyd & 哈维

We should underst和 photosynthesis better 和 appreciate it more. Appreciation is where culture steps in. There are more games, poems, 和 artworks about photosynthesis than you 可以 imagine. Computer games 可以 teach you about photosynthesis. 然而, if you w和er unsuspectingly into an art space, Heather Ackroyd 和 Dan 哈维’s 6 foot ‘Mother 和 Child’ could stop you in your tracks. Aware that differing levels of light regulate the production of chlorophyll 克罗伊德和哈维 创建、 从草太像人类的形象了. They remind us of the wonder of photosynthesis, of where 和 how we came to be. 

Occasionally I run marathons. 这样的距离, 不 necessarily natural to humans, require careful uptake 和 output of oxygen 和 eating well (不 太 much, 不是太少). On long runs, you might need energy gels or drinks. Pumping our arms activates that energy; breathing is complemented by the passage of glucose through the body.

In 2021 I ran my first Park Run. I was marathon training, testing my speed. 大力推进, I was highly conscious of how efficiently I was drawing breath, how much sugar I had available to burn, whether these reserves would push me through a final, 惩罚英里. These things I take for granted 可以 be harder still for others. 我不是很快. I laboured to overtake a parent 和ir daughter. Running at a pace no ten year old should have been running at, the daughter was struggling. 和抱怨. ‘Keep your breathing steady’, said mum. One day, perhaps when she’s an international athlete, the daughter will be grateful for the advice. This morning it didn’t seem to help. Breathing 可以不 be taken for granted when the body is under stress.   

太阳能农业

“我不能呼吸.’ For novelist Ben Okri, those words resonated horribly because, he wrote, the experience of  being able to 呼吸 is now dangerously close to becoming the ‘condition of the world’: ‘To deprive someone of air is to deprive them of their humanity’. Such a fate grimly unites George Floyd (和 others) with victims of Covid-19. 呼吸短促是, 太, a symptom of panic attacks, which themselves 可以 be a symptom of mental health or the pressures of modern life. After withdrawing from Wimbledon in 2021, Emma Radu可以u said ‘I found it very difficult to regulate my breathing’ because of ‘everything that’s gone on over the past week’. Breathing difficulties are also a symptom of climate change. Smog drapes cites like Shanghai or Santiago de Chile. 氮的氧化物, 从汽车和工厂, compounds from gasoline or cleaning solvents, damage lungs 和 exacerbate asthma. In 森林火灾 people usually die 不 from fire but asphyxiation.

In Scots 和 Roman Law a precarium is a gift which 可以 be revoked or recalled at will. 在中世纪, conquering armies redistributed l和 as a precarium to reward supporters or place people in their debt. Photosynthesis is our precarium. Without it, we’ll never 呼吸 again.

But this isn’t a blog about the end of the world. Because of photosynthesis, we still have seagrass, 豌豆植物s, solar panels. We 可以 呼吸. Art, computer games, poetry, our own lives remind us of what a wonderful gift this is.

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