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Global Warming-Resistant Agriculture

Word comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in the UK of the discovery of the gene sequence that controls how barley responds to temperature and seasonal changes. BBSRC scientists believe that it may be possible to modify this gene to allow barley -- a staple crop in the UK -- to flourish in the warmer, dryer environment to come. Other key crops such as wheat, rice and corn likely have similar genes, and should be able to be modified in similar ways.

Such a proposal smacks of "adaptation," and those of us who argue that we have the means now to prevent climate disaster are usually a bit hesitant to discuss such a notion. It's not because we don't think adaptation is possible, it's because the concept has been so abused by those who seek to avoid making any changes to our fossil fuel society that to speak of adaptation at all runs the risk of having one's words dismissed by allies and distorted by opponents. There's also the deeper philosophical issue that a focus on adaptation can easily undercut more productive -- but more difficult -- efforts to halt and reverse disastrous changes.

The reality is that thermal inertia of the ocean and the atmosphere means we'll still see warming for at least the next couple of decades, even if we were to stop putting any more greenhouse gases into the air right this very second. The global environment is changing in ways that will take a long time to reverse, even in the best scenarios; in the meantime, we'll need to figure out ways to continue to support a civilization under stress. Being able to modify key agricultural products to live in the changing environment will be a crucial part of the overall solution. It's not adaptation -- it's crisis management.

Comments (1)

Certainly, even if we slow CO2 release global warming will continue on for some time.

I'd think that this would shift growing "zones" around a bit ... but I doubt that the UK would get so warm that more "southern" crops would not grow.

Does barley really have to be engineered so it stays in the UK, rather than shifting to Canada, Scandinavia ... a lot of land in northern Eurasia.


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