Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Hybrid Poplars and Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

A start-up called Living Carbon (LC) has been in the news. The organization has bioengineered - to enhance photosynthesis - a poplar tree that removes more carbon dioxide from the air than normal. The aim is to provide carbon credits.

The Star Tribune reprinted a story by New York Times writer, Gabriel Popkin in its Science & Health section, March 5, 2023. It was titled "An Ethics Debate Sprouts in the Forest." However, to read it in both newspapers you must be a subscriber. I include the link to the NYT story which has a couple of paragraphs and a photograph of the tree planting described in Popkin's reporting.
Below are a few items from Popkin's reporting.

--The Global Justice Ecology Project which has a position on genetically modified trees responded by suggesting that government regulators allowed LC to do an evasive quick step through and around rules and regulations, thereby "opening the door to commercial plantings much sooner than is typical for engineered plants." 

An example of this difference is provided by Popkin who reports that the planting of an engineered apple (on a small scale in Washington state) "took several years to be approved."  The opening sentence in Popkin's story emphasizes this difference. "In...a tract of southern Georgia's pine belt...row upon row of the twig-like poplar trees" have already been planted."

--LC has not published peer-reviewed papers.

--Greenhouse experiments reveal almost nothing about how well the engineered plant will do when planted outdoors.

For information about  Living Green see here.

Early reporting on climate mitigation proposals leads one to ask, as NPR's Julia Simon did, "How does someone figure out what's legit?" ... Six climate scholars" were asked about "the questions they ask themselves whenever they come across something claiming to be a climate solution." The response headings are listed below but the essay includes important details for each.

-- A big climate solution is an obvious one.

--Think about who's selling you the solution.

--A solution may sound promising, but is it available and scalable now?

--If it's adding emissions, it's not a climate solution.

--If a solution sounds too easy, be skeptical.

--If a solution sounds too easy, be skeptical.

--There's no one solution to climate change - and no one can do it alone.

4our questions:
a) Do you find these questions useful?
b) If you applied them to the case of the hybrid trees, did it help you in reaching a tentative decision?
c) What questions/comments do you have?
d) What else would you like to know before reaching an informed citizen's conclusion?

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