Updated: Oct 31, 2022
This image is not of a real person but was generated by Open-AI's DALL-E program based on my prompts.
It is time we came to grips with the reality of climate change. It is not an inconvenience. It is not annoying or an interesting topic. It is horrific. It is children drowning in basement apartments in New York as black floodwaters filled basement apartments. As in the case of the illegal yet less expensive basement apartments, it attacks those who can least afford to avoid it first. Climate change is a horror show, and we need not wait for new episodes. There needs to be a field of science and policy that not only works toward prevention, yet anticipating disaster, and responding, even preemptively.
We will be dealing with issues such as mass migrations, that will only continue to tear at the fabric of civilization. If we simply sit by and watch, well, we will be watching never-ending dread in motion. It is not interesting or thought provoking, it is the end of the world, 1 individual at a time. We are at a point in time where we are waiting for the proverbial apocalypse, but in the summer of 2022, it has come for many. If you were the parents of the four children swept away in Kentucky floods, the apocalypse is here. If you were one of the tens of millions of Pakistanians whose homes and crops have been damaged or destroyed when floods swamped one third of the country, the apocalypse is here. It is in the sudden rush of water, and the disease, dysentery and pestilence that follows.
The question is, what comes after? As climate change picks us off one by one... As the Thwaites doomsday glacier waits to break its grip on Antartica, what type of world awaits us? And what about our children and grandchildren? How will it influence what we believe, what we value and strive for? I realize it is not in fashion to speak in such realistic terms, but while we are all racing to save the world, we must also consider our failure to do so. There is a non-zero chance that none of our efforts in EV’s, synthetic biology, geoengineering, carbon capture, sustainability, conservation, policy, and education, will bear meaningful consequence. How do we deal with what may come? Our society is woefully unprepared for that potential, and this lack of preparation has the potential to cause more panic than ignoring the storm until it has come ashore.
What if instead of Pakistan, South Florida was underwater? Suddenly, the dreams and aspirations of millions of Americans would be if not completely dashed, significantly challenged. We must have a renaissance, not simply in synthetic biology, sustainable energy tech and policy, but empathy. Many people will need help, persistently, constantly, and to respond to that challenge, that would require the world to alter its fixation on materialism and personal advancement. It would require us to look outward as a matter of practice, not episode. Myself Included.
How Synthetic Biology Can Address Floods
In the Pakistan floods of 2022, which were caused by melting glaciers and torrential rains, acre after acre of farmland was submerged under water. These floods are currently promoting and amplifying a pre-existing food crisis. The country is currently under threat of full-blown famine. A recent study presents promise in addressing the issue of flooded crops. Researchers from Hiroshima University identified dozens of up-regulated genes related to hypoxia in rice and thale cress plants. These hypoxic conditions may result from flooding, a scenario plants such as rice are accustomed to. By understanding which genes make these plants resistant to flooding, scientists may be able to manipulate other plant species to also make them robust to floods.
Admittedly, crops modified to handle floods in such extreme conditions seems woefully inadequate and does not address the underlying cause of climate change. However, if we are to focus purely on stopping climate change, with little in the arsenal to mitigate our failures, we may pay a tremendous price. Also, if we are to persistently and purposefully plant crops in flood-prone areas, we should consider such mitigation. Moving forward, grain will be at a premium worldwide. As the seas, rivers, deserts, urban areas, and fire-charred landscapes expand to take over farmland, we will need layers of insurance to lessen the chance of crop failure, causing repeated occurrence of famine and hunger. Due to its intensity, this technology may not have been a solution in Pakistan, but it may be in another disaster elsewhere.
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