Thursday, January 8, 2009

Climate Change Exhibit at AMNH

While in New York City I took a few hours for a mad dash to the American Museum of Natural History to check out their Climate Change exhibit.
I have to say it was fairly disappointing from a foodie perspective.

But the exhibit is reasonably interactive and quite informative from a fossil fuel, CO2 perspective. I was particularly interested in the part about climate change and the oceans, something I think we don't hear enough about. Sometimes all we hear is how people expect the oceans to provide the solution (we've dumped everything else there, why not more CO2?). But ocean acidification is a major problem which will affect many organisms, particularly the calcifying ones, and thus impact some things we enjoy eating, and others which make up their food or substrate. At one point in the exhibit one finds this statement:
"How the ocean will respond to rising CO2 levels is uncertain."

Scary. We know that as well as rising from ice melt, the oceans are getting warmer, too. Most marine organisms have a pretty narrow range of tolerance in the heat-cold dimension. And water expands as it warms, another contribution to flooding and possibly storm generation and intensification.

It's a terrible thing to think that what we haven't done to the oceans with habitat destruction, overfishing, and agricultural run-offs, we will do with increased greenhouse gases.

Since I mentioned agriculture, back to that topic.
Seemed like every time the exhibit descriptions mentioned climate change's impact on agriculture - drought, flood and warming - the proposed solution was genetically engineered seeds. That's where my real disappointment came from. I suppose I could make a case for genetic engineering of seeds for climates that are changing too rapidly for traditional hybridizing methods to work - but only if the artificially introduced genes are from a closely related plant, and not patented by a corporation or other profit making entity. Even then, the danger of backcrossing is real, and with it the driving out of diversity in traditional seed stock and wild relatives. Seems like we should begin now searching folklore and uncommon seed varieties to develop and disseminate seeds with tolerance for a wider range of climatic conditions.

Finally, one more footnote. Farming in the Andes is going to get more challenging as glaciers, a usual source of summer irrigation water, shrink, and there is less of them to melt. I hope somebody is working on those hundreds of varieties of potatoes, searching for varieties that work well in drought.

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