Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

GM Plants, Carbon Dioxide And Other Hot Air

One of the big problems faced by advocates of the Kyoto Accord and similar efforts is that even assuming that global warming is occurring and that a rising carbon dioxide level does have a lot to do with that (instead of, say, a rise in the sun's energy output being the overwhelming culprit), the Accord and such proposals would definitely be hugely expensive but are unlikely to have meaningful effects on the world's atmospheric carbon dioxide or global temperature.

One of the biggest issues in the Kyoto Accord considerations was what (if any) role trees should play in the Accord enforcement mechanisms and quotas. It was claimed by some, for example, that new growth forests do not extract carbon dioxide as well as old growth forests.

This New York Times article describes research to genetically modify trees to address the role they play in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The article notes that the researchers are trying to create trees that will store more carbon in their roots. But the overall tenor of the article suggests another possibility - not discussed in the article - that trees and other plants might be genetically modified to remove more carbon dioxide from the air than they do now. Of course, if carbon dioxide levels rise, evolution and natural selection may favor plants that do that naturally. But genetic manipulation of plants might provide an effective way of reducing carbon dioxide and global warming without the costs of the Kyoto Accord and other such proposals - which often seems directed at reducing mankind again to some kind of stone age.

If such genetic manipulation can be accomplished, it would pose an interesting problem for people of a certain political stripe. It is a perhaps coincidental fact, although apparently not a necessary fact, that many of the people most intensely interested in global warming and in adoption of the Kyoto Accord and the like also strongly oppose genetically modified plants. That seems especially true in Europe. The creation of GM plants to rapidly remove carbon dioxide would likely create a huge wedge issue for such people.

In any event, shouldn't politicians be advocating that "we get to work on this new promising technology?" The prospects for CO2-reducing GM plants seem to be at least as bright as the prospects for stem cell research - and GM plant research doesn't require killing anything human.

Would it be worth while for the Republicans to look into raising this issue at their upcoming convention?

Just a thought.

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