Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have come up with an idea they say could cool the planet by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer: reflective plants. As opposed to large-scale engineering projects that have been proposed to achieve this in the past, planting more reflective crops would take advantage of a global system already in place (agriculture) and its potential can be proved in less risky and expensive ways than say, a huge sunshade erected in space.
The scientists are not proposing changes in which crops are planted since shifts could cause major disruptions in available food and to the land they're planted on. They suggest instead that existing crops be bred or genetically engineered to be more reflective by changing the waxiness and arrangement of their leaves, among other things.
The plan isn't foolproof obviously. The cooling would only occur in areas with large amounts of arable land, meaning central North America and a band across Europe and Asia would see cooling effects, while the Southern hemisphere would see far less benefits. The other drawback is the time it would take to engineer crops for reflectivity and then to implement the new versions globally.
I think it's a more realistic idea for global cooling than others that have been suggested, but it's still not a real solution. I'm not completely discounting it. I'm sure some good could come from planting crops in a more thoughtful way, but I'm still convinced that the only way to really turn this crisis around is through a major reduction in the use of fossil fuels and a dramatic change in how we use energy. Ideas like this excite me because they prove how inventive we can be, but I'm not sure there will ever be an easy solution.
via NY Times
written by Judas Gutenberg, January 22, 2009
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