James Peron | Innovate or die, as climate crises worsens

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One problem is, if you’re already well off, you don’t care about poverty as much, writes James Peron on the climate crises. Photo: Reuters
One problem is, if you’re already well off, you don’t care about poverty as much, writes James Peron on the climate crises. Photo: Reuters


Recent global weather patterns have again raised concerns about warming and its possible impact. Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy said the solution was to shower the current government with billions more in foreign aid.

She “demanded affluent nations that have emitted the bulk of the world’s climate-warming gases to commit more assistance to those most affected by the impact of rising temperatures”.

There are innovative solutions to carbon emissions, but the very people who demand regimentation of the economy to address climate issues are themselves standing in the way of possible solutions and screaming they must not be used.

READ: Food insecurity on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa

The most widely known alternative is to replace the use of gas and oil in producing power with non-carbon emitting technologies. Solar panels work well at the level of individual residencies, if you live in the right area, but they become cumbersome when it comes to generating sufficient power on larger scales, given the amount of land they require. Nuclear technology, as used outside socialist nations, has a relatively decent track record, with fewer downsides than the current technologies.

But the very people shouting the loudest about the climate demand deprivation, not innovation. They want the economies of the world shackled and regulated, to force them to shrink. They demand policies that will reduce world living standards, and while there is some leeway for the wealthy, such policies would be devastating to the developing nations of the world. Given how such policies of deprivation impact developing nations the most, the policies could appear to have been engineered to harm those nations most.

READ: EU citrus ban not politically motivated, assures trade expert

Laura Kahn, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an activist group, discusses the use of plants to capture carbon and the political obstacles used by environmentalist groups to stop solutions from being implemented. She notes that plants consume vast amounts of carbon but often release them again when harvested. However, perennials are a different matter:

Perennials – plants that live year after year – provide a potential strategy to combat climate change by storing carbon dioxide long-term in their roots. [Trees do this too, which is one of the many reasons cutting down forests is so deleterious to the environment.]

Kahn says there is work being done that could both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and feed livestock and people. Despite being urgent, the problem is  “unnecessarily slow for political reasons”.

“Due to concerns about political opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), she has chosen to genetically alter plants the old-fashioned way, through selective breeding, rather than through a newer, faster technology, the gene-editing tool CRISPR.”

Joanne Chory, a plant biologist and geneticist, is director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and a Breakthrough Prize recipient. She created an initiative called Harnessing Plants for the Future to develop a super plant that will both provide food and store carbon dioxide in its roots.

READ: South Africa’s hunger problem is turning into a major health crisis 

Genetic modification is as safe as vaccination, but various political groups oppose both – leading to disasters in both cases. Modification is particularly attacked by wealthy residents in Europe, often as a disguised measure of protectionism against crops grown in the developing nations of the world, where technology is still embraced because it lifts people out of poverty. One problem is, if you’re already well off, you don’t care about poverty as much. Many in the West pay lip service to global poverty, but continue to implement policies that exacerbate it.

Chory’s super plants include “beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts” because they are perennials. Her idea is to expand the roots of the plants so they store more carbon and “that if 5% of the world’s cropland, approximately the total area of Egypt, were devoted to such super plants, they could capture about 50 percent of current global carbon dioxide emissions”.

Chory is hoping that she can use crossbreeding to develop the plants within 10 years. A much faster solution would be genetic modification, which all the science shows to be safe and speedy. Kahn writes:

So why isn’t Chory using it? In order to avoid political opposition from activists opposed to GMOs, as she said during the question-and-answer session of her Breakthrough Prize Symposium talk. Anti-GMO activists have held up the implementation of Golden Rice, a crop that could spare millions of people from blindness and death due to vitamin A deficiency, and have hindered development of crops [that are] resistant to disease.

Sadly, many Western environmentalists give the distinct impression that they want to solve environmental problems at the expense of the poorest populations in the world. Due to their exaggerated technophobia, they want to scuttle innovation and adopt deprivation as a strategy instead. Deprivation for the rich means smaller houses and electric cars; deprivation for the world’s poor is the difference between life and death.

Peron is president of the Moorfield Storey Institute and author of several books, and is a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation

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