Science: Saving the crop, saving the planet?


Climate change
Climate change (Photo credit: jeancliclac)

The Midwest drought is looking ugly but some hope that crop seeds engineered with the best scientific technology available will help prevent widespread crop failure this year.

The Midwest drought is looking ugly but some hope we will use the best scientific know how available to battle climate change to help stop the crop failures in the future.

Two thoughts to contemplate. Crops in the Midwest are in their worst shape since Ronald Reagan was President and Mikhail Gorbachev was in the charge of  the Soviet Union (which had seen its better days).

We have a come long way since then, including the advent of genetically modified seeds which are now widely used across the United States. Unfortunately, the globe is also struggling with extreme weather and the vast majority of scientists say it is being caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

For farmers suffering through the drought there is some hope that the big biotech companies such as Monsanto are creating seeds that could prove more adept than ever before at dealing with a lack of moisture.

“Farmers now use genetically modified seeds that improve the plants’ drought tolerance, and this summer is effectively a trial by fire for the technology,” wrote Kevin Hall, with McClatchy newspapers in a report. “A well-timed rain and drought-tolerant plants could mean that things don’t end as badly as now is feared.”

If that proves correct, it would be good news. The U.S. Department painted a surprisingly bleak picture of this year’s crop in its most recent monthly crop report, which shocked the markets. Traders had been expecting USDA to soft peddle the news but instead USDA said stocks would be cut by a third by the end of next marketing year, meaning crops will be in tight supply for a third year running. Corn prices have soared to record highs above $8 a bushel.

Whether you like GMO crops or not, it’s fair to say they will be with with us for a long time, fully embraced by farmers, which tend now to be large operations that pay heed to the very latest in scientific know how.

But that is not the case when it comes to tackling climate change. It’s still a big argument between two opposing sides and politicians are loathe even to mention the issue.

“The summer of 2012 offers Americans the best chance yet to get their minds around the problem,” Elizabeth Kolbert, wrote in the most recent New Yorker. . “In late June, just as a sizzling heat wave was settling across much of the country—in Evansville, Indiana, temperatures rose into the triple digits for ten days, reaching as high as a hundred and seven degrees—wildfires raged in Colorado.

She concluded: “There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.”

There indeed is not much of a debate in the United States. There is shouting between the greens and climate deniers but  it does not seem to be a conversation that will lead to policy change anytime soon, despite strong scientific evidence.

Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, did not hold out too much hope because of the indifferent public and the climate change denial machine, which he called “a major industry, lavishly financed by Exxon.

“The deniers will surely keep on denying, especially because conceding at this point that the science they’ve trashed was right all along would be to admit their own culpability for the looming disaster.”

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