Mutant Trees, Too?

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Researchers have found ways to make trees sequester more carbon.  There’s a whole section in the October edition of BioScience about these new prospects and what they mean for public policies and perspectives.  Ideas include increasing the efficiency with which trees absorb light, and making them move more carbon to their roots.  This will enable them to pull more carbon out of the atmosphere and store it as long-lived forms of carbon.  Physicist and writer Freeman Dyson also claims that these genetically altered trees could then be converted to biofuel.

Ecologists are worried about the infrastructure and energy that would go into farming these new trees.  They will require planting, fertilizing, watering, and eventually, harvesting- all of which are energy-intensive operations.  Besides, it is estimated that 12% of the annual net increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be attributed to deforestation.  Why should we plant new forests when those that currently sequester carbon while providing a vastness of ecological diversity are not being saved from destruction?

Another problem with making trees that suck up more carbon from our atmosphere is that trees don’t hold onto that carbon forever.  That carbon is going to end up back in the atmosphere sooner or later, and we’ll just have to deal with it then.  Although, I suppose later is better than sooner.  At least that will give us some time to think about how to handle all that carbon in a better manner.  Hopefully it’s enough time, and we do come up with something more sustainable.

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