Earth Can’t Keep up with Climate Change

Nature adapts to survive increasing temperatures, but without our help it won’t be enough.

Nature adapts to survive increasing temperatures, but without our help it won’t be enough

Our planet is warming at a rate far quicker than anything humans or the earth has seen before. Carbon emissions have damaged our atmosphere and left us susceptible to a host of problems we are just beginning to understand. Scientific consensus is clear; our planet is warming at a rate that is untenable for life as we know it. As we continue to make the necessary changes to fight climate change, the earth is making her own adaptations to aid in the battle. By researching these, scientists are gaining insight into new ways we can use plants to help save ourselves.

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Earth Can’t Keep up with Climate Change
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Climate is always in a state of flux, but the rate of change has irrefutably been accelerated by increased carbon emissions caused by human activity on earth. As we anticipate further warming of the planet, scientists have dire predictions for what is to come. Melting polar ice is causing new weather patterns globally; some places are experiencing new temperature lows while others experience new highs. Locally, these shifts have caused extensive flooding across the United States; 14 states were placed on high risk this year compared to 1 last year. Shifts like this create hospitable environments for disease incubation and can lead to outbreaks in places that are not prepared for them. Science tells us that such a slight shift in temperature doesn’t just change our comfort here on earth; this warming has the potential to alter entire ecosystems and the gentle balance in which they rest.

Global organizations and governments are attempting to mitigate these issues before they become worse. Cities are incentivizing public transit, sales of electric vehicles are rising, and international pacts to keep governments accountable are being signed. Combined with increased access to renewable energy, these efforts may help slow the damage; but it may not be enough. No matter how effective these strategies are, the technology to reverse it is still an unimaginable number of years away. Luckily, new research investigating how plants are adapting to these shifts is providing insights into new solutions for the future.

Plants and their techniques for adaption may hold the key to reversing the damage we have caused to this earth. New research out of the Salk Institute for Biomedical Sciences in La Jolla, CA has found a technique used in plants to minimize energy production during high stress. The study found that when plants were stressed (deprived of water, placed in high/low temperature, etc.), they were able to tell their energy production centers and slow the burn of valuable resources. Genes activated by stress were found to inhibit photosynthesis: a metabolic process used by plants to create energy from sunlight. While humans do not use photosynthesis for energy production, knowledge of these genes could help scientists create genetically modified (GM) plants purposefully designed to help fight climate change. If successful, scientists could design new species that may be able to help clear the air.

Now is the time for action and tomorrow is too late. Most policy change proposed across the globe, while well intentioned, is nowhere near enough. Scientists have been explicitly clear how urgent the issue is. In documents such as the IPCC and the Paris Climate Agreement, they have laid out extensive evidence to show what will happen if we don’t expedite our efforts. If science is successful, GM plants may find a place on the front lines, but even they will only be a piece of the puzzle. If you’re going to celebrate the earth this year, remember that she is fragile and we all play a role in keeping her as green, beautiful, and healthy as she can be.

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