Reflective plants and global warming – 2

My last post talked about some research into reflective plants that in my opinion will do nothing to combat global warming (even assuming humans are causing the earth to warm). But I actually think this research is a good thing.

Sure, it won’t cool the planet. But it is a great way of getting EU funding. Global warming is the current fad in science. If you want funding, you make sure your proposal mentions global warming somewhere. At the end of the day this will just be plant science and genetic engineering research that the scientists want to do. It is bound to further knowledge of genetic engineering techniques, or photosynthesis, or achieve something else useful. But they can pitch the research towards global warming this year to get funding, and in a few years time the same facilities can be used to combat cancer, or global cooling, or whatever.

Quality research requires long-term projects. But it is very hard to obtain funding for long-term projects these days, most funding being given in 3-year cycles. It is also hard to obtain funding for research for the sake of furthering human knowledge, funders want to see something useful after 3 years – which is fair enough as they are paying for it. But research purely for the sake of finding out the unknown is also vital, because it may be useful in the future in ways we cannot imagine today.

So you have to follow the fads and ensure that however society’s goals change you can satisfy those goals to get funding, while keeping your long-term, more widely useful but not currently fashionable work going at the same time.

So don’t panic too much thinking money will be wasted on something pointless, it all pushes the boundaries of scientific knowledge that bit further, using the money of whoever wants to fund research this year. And the more global warming money that can be put into research rather than thrown away on carbon trading and other rubbish the better.

So I wish them luck and hope they find out something useful to further our knowledge of plant science.

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Scientists come up with all sorts of original ideas to secure some funding and secure their jobs for the next few years! Check out this one from the BBC:

Farmers could help curb rising global temperatures by selecting crop varieties that reflect solar energy back into space, researchers say. …

Some crop varieties are naturally more reflective than others. A field of more reflective leaves will send more solar energy back into space than a field of a more absorbent variety.

Yes, you could feasibly reflect a little bit more heat back by doing this. But how much? Over 70% of the earths surface is ocean, which absorbs most of the light that hits it. Only around 30% of the land area is feasibly able to be farmed, and only a tiny fraction of that would be practical to actually plant in more reflective crops (encouraged by subsidies of course). Maybe you could plant 0.2% of the earth in reflective crops as a generous estimate?

“But another possibility for the future would be to produce a [leaf] surface that differs in reflectivity at different wavelengths, so it could selectively absorb wavelengths involved in photosynthesis.”

Newsflash: Leaves already do that. That is why they look green – they absorb the red light (which they use for photosynthesis), and reflect the green, which they don’t use. It is also why plants stay cool on a hot day while most surfaces get hot – they aren’t absorbing radiation they don’t need. But good on whoever thought up this idea, they’re bound to get someone to fund it, it sounds plausible.

So the plan is to plant a tiny fraction of the earth in plants that reflect a tiny fraction more light back into space (remembering plants are already extremely efficient at this so you can make only minor improvements). Supported by massive subsidies. And all while hoping that the market doesn’t act by planting more “bad” plants in unregulated countries to meet consumer demand.

Judge it for yourself.

Reflective plants and global warming – 2