In the article below, we once again find scientists attempting to advance their careers by suggesting that the best way to “save the planet” is by getting as far away from nature as possible. In this fantastical article, scientists argue that industrial scale plantations of GE trees could store enough carbon to help stop climate change. This ignores several studies that have come before it. One by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the World Resources Institute found that tree plantations only store 1/4 the carbon of native wild forests. Another from Duke University found that trees do not increase their uptake of carbon unless their soils are rich in nitrogen. This either means rich agricultural lands will need to be taken over for these plantations (displacing communities and exacerbating the food crisis) or they will need nitrogen fertilizers–which are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The idea behind this study comes out of the World Forestry Congress–that global gathering of timber industry executives, foresters and others that occurs once every six years. At their last gathering in Buenos Aires in 2009 they extolled the notion that we can have our trees and eat them too. We can store more carbon in trees at the same time that we massively increase the demand for wood for bioenergy, biochar and other products.
This logic is obviously flawed on multiple levels and ignores the most basic rule of genetic engineering–unforseen consequences are unavoidable. Engineering DNA causes mutations which lead to unpredictable results. The only thing certain about genetic engineering is that it is an absolutely uncertain and highly dangerous science.
–Anne Petermann, for the GJEP Team
(to read Anne’s blog post from the World Forestry Congress, click here
To read the outcomes of the World Forestry Congress, click here
Genetically altered trees, plants could help counter global warming
Cross-posted from American Institute of Biological Sciences
Study evaluates prospects for boosting carbon sequestration from the atmosphere by modifying natural biological processes and deploying novel food and fuel crops
Forests of genetically altered trees and other plants could sequester several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year and so help ameliorate global warming, according to estimates published in the October issue of BioScience.
The study, by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, outlines a variety of strategies for augmenting the processes that plants use to sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon, first in vegetation and ultimately in soil.
Besides increasing the efficiency of plants’ absorption of light, researchers might be able to genetically alter plants so they send more carbon into their roots–where some may be converted into soil carbon and remain out of circulation for centuries. Other possibilities include altering plants so that they can better withstand the stresses of growing on marginal land, and so that they yield improved bioenergy and food crops. Such innovations might, in combination, boost substantially the amount of carbon that vegetation naturally extracts from air, according to the authors’ estimates.
The researchers stress that the use of genetically engineered plants for carbon sequestration is only one of many policy initiatives and technical tools that might boost the carbon sequestration already occurring in natural vegetation and crops.
The article, by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan, is the first in a Special Section in the October BioScience that includes several perspectives on the prospects for enhancing biological carbon sequestration. Other articles in the section analyze the substantial ecological and economic constraints that limit such efforts. One article discusses the prospects for sequestering carbon by culturing algae to produce biofuel feedstocks; one proposes a modification of the current regulatory climate for producing genetically engineered trees in the United States; and one discusses societal perceptions of the issues surrounding the use of genetically altered organisms to ameliorate warming attributed to the buildup of greenhouse gases.
By noon EST on 1 October 2010 and until early November, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this press release available at www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/.
Phytosequestration: Carbon Biosequestration by Plants and the Prospects of Genetic Engineering by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan
Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security by Rattan Lal