Can this Tree Save the World? Shiny Plants as Solution to Climate Change

Talk of geoengineering always kicks up an interesting debate on TreeHugger. For some people, the idea of artificially altering the earth’s climate to slow the progress of climate change is akin to planetary ER – we stabilize the patient while we try to get her back to optimal health. For others it’s just another example of human arrogance, and a dangerous distraction from the key task of cutting greenhouse gases.

Whether or not schemes like iron seeding the oceans, launching giant space mirrors, simulating volcanic eruptions, or placing synthetic blankets over the alps are morally justified, we also have to ask another question: will they work? The latest concept being touted for returning sunlight to where it came from seems particularly suspect to us: growing shinier plants.
According to the Guardian, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, claim that by encouraging farmers to grow shinier crops, temperature in agricultural regions could be reduced by as much as 1.9 degrees Celsius. Apparently the idea is not without precedent either, as a new soy bean variety that was bred to be pest resistant is also said to reflect 5% more sunlight than normal.

Frank discussion among the TreeHugger team has thrown up some awkward questions however – if the crops are grown purely for their reflective properties, then wouldn't the areas needing to be covered be huge? But if we are talking about breeding food, or other important crops to reflect more sunlight, then surely there would be a negative impact on productivity, which in turn would lead to more land being turned over to agricultural production. After all, isn’t absorbing sunlight kind of a core part of what being a plant is all about?

The researchers touting this idea are not discussing it further until they publish in an academic journal later this year, so we are a little mystified on some of the detail. Until then, given that the alarming news about the accelerating rate of climate change keeps on rolling in, we will try to keep an open mind. We will not, however, be giving up our bikes or CFLs any time soon. We might consider painting our roof white though. ::The Guardian::via site visit::

Tags: Agriculture | California