Monday, June 15, 2020

Genome-edited crops help farmers and environment

The agriculture bill before the House of Lords today offers a chance for plant breeders to make safer, more productive crops that need fewer chemicals. Britain has a long track record of safe and efficient plant breeding but the industry is unable to use the latest techniques because of a rogue decision by the European Union in 2018.

A proposed amendment to the bill would allow the government to consult on whether to use the same definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO) as most of the rest of the world. Doing so would exempt 90 per cent of crops produced by the new and precise method known as genome editing.

Genome editing does none of the things the opponents of GMOs have objected to. It does not introduce foreign genetic material from another species. It does not produce plants that could not have arisen naturally. It does not require large companies.

Here is how it would work in a real example. British sugar-beet farmers are seeing a decline in yields since the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides. Aphids are increasingly infecting the crops with viruses. Other European countries dealt with this problem by making an exception from the neonic ban for their sugar-beet farmers; we did not. However, researchers have found natural varieties of the plant with natural mutations that make sugar beet virus-resistant. They want to induce these precise mutations in varieties that thrive in British conditions.

Traditional plant breeding, by back-crossing and selection, can achieve this but it will take years. Genome editing could achieve it in weeks. Then farmers could grow sugar beet with no introduced DNA and less need for insecticides.

Almost all European plant scientists are united in bafflement and opposition to a highly political judgment by the European Court of Justice in 2018 that departed from the international definition of GMOs to include genome-edited plants, while exempting the far less predictable process of bombarding seeds with gamma rays to induce mutations. It made no sense, scientifically or economically, and went against the advice of its own advocate-general. Britain has a chance to change that definition once it is outside the EU.

If the government permits itself to consult on making this simple change we may see a gold rush of plant breeding projects to this country, generating employment while making crops more competitive, wildlife-friendly, nutrient-rich and with fewer emissions. If we donĂ¢€™t, our farmers will be stuck with more chemicals, less biodiversity and uncompetitive crops.


Mangrove malarkey

The Weather Channel published an article on its website Wednesday claiming global warming threatens the extinction of mangrove trees – which rely on warm temperatures to live – within 30 years.

Common sense and scientific evidence reveal that the Weather Channel’s alarmist claim is preposterous.

Mangroves Love Heat, Salty Water

Mangrove trees grow along shorelines in saltwater or brackish water. They provide many ecological benefits, including filtering water pollution, anchoring shoreline soil, and providing breeding grounds and host environments for many marine species.

Mangroves are very susceptible to frost events and therefore are limited to the tropics and subtropics. There are no coastlines that are too warm for them, as they grow throughout the tropics and thrive even along the equator on all three continents that span the equator.

Mangroves Currently Expanding Their Range

Recent scientific research shows warming temperatures allow mangrove trees to grow larger and more rapidly, and also for mangrove forests to expand their ranges.

A recent study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Ecology reports, “As freeze events decline with climate change, mangroves expand their range to higher latitudes….”

The Journal of Ecology study also mangroves dramatically increase their growth and concentrations under warmer conditions.

“We found that chronic warming doubled plant height and accelerated the expansion of mangrove into salt marsh vegetation, as indicated by a six-fold greater increase in mangrove cover in warmed plots compared to ambient temperature plots,” the study found.

That’s right, mangrove cover increased six-fold under warmer temperatures!

The study also found warmer temperatures facilitated elevation gain, with mangroves migrating further inland from the shore, “driven by increased mangrove root production in warmed plots.”

Dubious Alarmism

How, then, does the Weather Channel claim global warming threatens to make mangroves go extinct within 30 years?

The Weather Channel cited a very dubious alarmist study regarding mangroves and sea-level rise, and then further misrepresented the dubious study to make it appear even more alarmist.

One could call the Weather Channel’s (mis)representations bad science, but even that would likely be too kind.

Stationary Ranges?

In the study cited by the Weather Channel, modelers attempted to discern the pace of mangrove migration 10,000 years ago when the global sea level dramatically rose.

The modelers then forecast that mangrove forests can migrate to higher elevations at a speed of no more than 7 millimeters (0.27 inches) of sea-level rise per year.

Anybody who lives near mangroves knows mangrove forests can migrate much faster than that. Mangrove roots can spring up from the soil several feet from the trunk of the host mangrove tree.

Moreover, mangrove seed pods float on the water and can, therefore, take root at the same pace with the rising waters and tides.

Accordingly, mangrove forests can easily keep up with rising sea level, and can certainly migrate more than 0.27 inches of sea-level rise per year.


Official Tornado Data Exposes More Al Gore Lies

In two articles published this past week here at Climate Realism, we showed how Al Gore’s predictions about melting glaciers in Glacier National Park and disappearing snows at Mt. Kilimanjaro have proven spectacularly wrong.

Those were the only two concrete predictions Gore made with a definitive timeline prior to today in his book, An Inconvenient Truth.

Gore failed on both accounts. But those weren’t Gore’s only spectacular embarrassments. Let’s take a look at what Gore claimed about tornadoes.

On page 86 in An Inconvenient Truth, Gore claimed, “in 2004, the all-time record for tornadoes in the United States was broken.”

Worse than his two failed predictions, this one is a flat-out lie. And it was a flat-out lie when Gore asserted it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been meticulously keeping tornado records going back 65 years, to 1954.

As shown in the NOAA graph reproduced below, there were 600 tornadoes in 2004. Prior to 2004, however, there were six different years in which NOAA documented more than 600 tornadoes.

Gore’s statement was a lie the second he made it.

Even more embarrassingly for Gore, the NOAA graph likely undercounted tornadoes during the mid-1950s through the late 20th century.

That is because advanced radar in recent years has enabled scientists to identify tornadoes in the middle of nowhere that previously would not have been counted.

As a result, it is likely that there were well more than six years between 1954 and 2004 with more tornadoes than Gore’s ‘all-time-record year’ of 2004.


Now’s our chance to rebuild Australia

But it would require Greenies to compromise

It’s the greatest issue of our times, eclipsing even the War on Terror. As measured by the disruption and economic misery, the coronavirus pandemic is having a bigger impact than any event since World War II. And while more Australians will die each year from, say, cancer than from COVID-19, the precautions that shuttered large parts of the economy racked up debts that will hobble our recovery for years to come.

Coronavirus is disrupting the way we think, and it is resetting our priorities. In previous eras, such a contagion would have been interpreted as an act of God. Indeed, the clergy would have proclaimed that all this misery was divine retribution for humanity’s wickedness: “Repent now, lest the Lord wreak further havoc upon your wretched souls!”

Yes, well, humanity might have been able to conveniently blame God for disease, pestilence and famine in the past, but less so now. These days we are more scientific in our thinking and fairer minded in our search for a cause. I think most Australians are open-minded about where coronavirus began and how it spread. It may have come from Wuhan’s wet markets, but we are content to wait and see what the evidence suggests.

Today the cause of a natural calamity of this scale is likely to be attributed to a wilful disrespect for the environment – which, when you think about it, is a form of wickedness that demands contrition and personal change. Early in the virus’s spread there were attempts to make such a link: experts would talk about how mankind’s encroachment into native forests brings us into closer contact with wild animals, thus increasing the risk of cross-species infection.

Summer’s bushfires and the preceding drought were a case in point, too: both were “obviously” the result of climate change, exacerbated by the intransigence of denialists and vested interests. There is no doubt that during the bushfires most Australians supported action to mitigate the effects of global warming. But then came coronavirus, and our national priorities were reset. Out-of-control global warming by 2030, let alone by 2050, does not exert the same immediate threat to our lives as does the prospect of contracting coronavirus or losing our jobs.

Yet while our priorities are being reset, we have an opportunity: this is our chance to rebuild Australia in a way that is sustainable, that focuses on industries without trashing the environment, that delivers energy solutions without exacerbating global warming. Conversely, the urgency for action on climate change must now be viewed through other lenses such as the need for rebuilding the economy, strengthening the health system, delivering supply chain sovereignty, and perhaps shoring up alliances.

It’s a big agenda, and requires both climate change sceptics and environmentalists to make concessions. Maybe gas is a reasonable resource to exploit until renewables can deliver baseload power? Maybe acquiescing to global demand for coal is sustaining an industry that causes long-term damage to the environment? Maybe we should be having the discussion (again) about nuclear power? Maybe living in the suburbs and commuting to an inner-city job is an outdated concept?

Sometimes, adversaries are so fixated on winning that any concession is regarded as a loss. The way forward, I believe, involves both sides acknowledging that there is a better Australia to be built in the years to come, and that this will require concessions. And, more to the point, I don’t believe I am being overly optimistic in my hopes for the future.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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