Year 2, Month 8, Day 25: Cockroaches and Grasses?

More on the “Prairie grasses will do okay” story, this time from the August 7 Colorodoan, and featuring the researcher in charge describing his methodology. It’s pretty interesting:

CHEYENNE — On the plains west of here Thursday, plant physiologist Jack Morgan inspected some grasses growing on a plot surrounded by a hollow hoop beneath an array of small heaters suspended from metal rods.

“Can you hear the hissing sound?” he said. “That’s the sound of the CO2 being emitted. It does it at a controlled rate, and we measure it in the middle of that ring.”

What Morgan, a rangeland scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins, really is measuring is how rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as a result of climate change might alter how grasses and weeds grow in the western Great Plains – critical information for ranchers and cattle owners who could see their businesses reshaped by climate change.

There are, alas, negative consequences to positive consequences. Hence this letter, sent August 7:

Jack Morgan and his research team are offering something rare: a positive side-effect of climate change. While their findings of plant resilience are very welcome, it’s important to keep a sense of the larger picture. Increased drought resistance is crucial on a climatically altered planet, because there’ll be more droughts — along with more extreme weather of all sorts. The prognosis for Earth’s environment over the next millennia is pretty grim; extreme losses of biodiversity are probably inevitable, even if prairie grasses do better than expected.

Powerful forces in our media and politics have been actively denying the scientific basis of climate change predictions for many years. As the evidence keeps mounting, we’ll start hearing a “global warming is good for us” message instead, in which studies like Dr. Morgan’s will be misapplied to advocate against meaningful action on climate and energy issues. This must not be allowed to happen.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 24: The Bad News IS The Good News

The August 6 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports that increased CO2 may help some plants resist droughts more effectively:

CHEYENNE — A rising carbon dioxide level may help protect some prairie plants from a decrease in water.

An experiment running at the Agricultural Research Service’s High Plains Grassland Research Station to the northwest of Cheyenne examined the interaction of slightly warmer temperatures, higher carbon dioxide levels and less water.

“The overview is that we’re doing research to evaluate the effects of climate change on grassland ecology,” Jack Morgan, plant physiologist and researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said of the cause of the study.

Of course, without the climate change, there wouldn’t be as many droughts for them to resist. What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away. Or something. Sent August 6:

It’s certainly likely that some effects of climate change will have welcome consequences, like an increase in plants’ ability to resist prolonged dry periods. On the other hand, it’s irrefutable that as the greenhouse effect intensifies, the world as a whole is going to experience more droughts — along with more irregular and extreme weather events of every kind. Those plants are going to need every bit of their augmented survival capability to continue thriving in the coming centuries. So, of course, are humans.

We are clever creatures, and we’ll probably figure out how to keep on keeping on as the world’s climate changes. But we’ll need wisdom, forethought and resourcefulness if our species is to avoid what biologists euphemistically call an “evolutionary bottleneck.” Every day spent denying the threat of global warming is a day wasted; we can no longer delay in preparing for a radically transformed future.

Warren Senders