This is a brief overview of the current trends toward larger scale genetic engineering of agricultural crops and animals and geoengineering and mega-engineering adaptation to offset or adapt to environmental changes. Primarily these are observations at which solutions are getting significant increases in research and development resources and are getting or are close to being deployed at significant levels.
Weaker and slower interventions and adjustments to address the sources of environmental change will mean stronger and more urgent efforts in the future. History of changes to forests and wild areas on land indicate that the choice has generally not been to roll back efforts to low energy naturalistic lifestyles but to use more technology and processes to obtain necessary food and other resources.
More “naturalistic” solutions could be possible if there were far stronger efforts on converting coal and fossil fuel plants with factory mass produced nuclear fission reactor such as current efforts in China. The greater naturalistic part would be less genetic engineering and less geoengineering could be required. Those could still be done but there would be less required interventions of those types.
ie. You can allow your human population to fluctuate with the levels of buffalo herds or you take control of the food population with domesticated cows and chickens on farms.
You could allow your human population to fluctuate with the levels of wild fish catch and other farm production or you find ways to increase food production in spite of environmental variables. Fish farming provides over half of the worlds fish for human consumption.
When some soils deteriorated from farming techniques there was new farm management practices and fertilizers usage and modification of crops to be tougher and able to grow in inferior soils.
Genetically Modified Plants
In 2008, Time Magazine discussed “China’s Genetically Altered Food Boom”
Most of China’s cotton is already transgenic, and rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and livestock are in the pipeline. “China decided that conventional technology would not allow it to feed its people,” says Clive James, chairman and founder of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). In the 12 years since GM crops have been commercially grown, James says most planting has been in the Americas. “I believe that the second decade will be the decade of Asia,” he says.
Genetically modified rice is expected to be approved by Feb, 2011 in China. This is expected to open the gates to other grain crops and to other countries approving genetically modified crops.
A 2008 research report on the status of China’s transgenic rice research.
Of all of the work being done in field and environmental release trials, four which have been engineered to be resistant to major pests in China, have advanced to the final stage of field trials, the preproduction trials stage. Two insect-resistant hybrids—GM Xianyou 63 and Kemingdao contain stem borer–resistant Bt genes. According to experimental trial data, the Bt varieties are resistant to three stem borers in China: Tryporyza incertulas Walker, Chilo suppressalis Walker, and Cnaphalocrocis medinalis Guenee (Zhu, Huang, and Hu 2003). The hybrid GM II Youming 86 contains the CPTi gene, which provides resistance to six pests: the same pests that are targets of varieties containing Bt plus Sesamia inferensWalker, Parndra guttata Bremeret Grey, and Pelopidas mathias Fabricius. MOA (2002) reports that in 2000 and 2001, stem borers affected between 68% and 75% of China’s rice area. Given that China’s rice area is nearly 30 million hectares, this means that the main pests targeted by China’s experimental GM rice varieties (that are currently in preproduction trials) affect more than 20 million hectares annually, nearly 13% of the world’s total rice sown area. A fourth hybrid contains the Xa21 genes, which provide resistance to bacterial blight, one of the most prevalent diseases in rice production areas in central China (Zhu et al. 2003).
Before commercialization, a new GM variety that passes the environmental
release stage of the biosafety testing process in China must also pass through
preproduction trials. According to China’s biosafety regulations, the total area
for each preproduction trial should be more than 30 mu but not exceed 1,000
mu, or 66.7 hectares (MOA 2005).
Although China’s rice scientists are developing the first generation of GM rice in hybrid varieties, which may indeed be suffering from falling demand, they are doing so because of the relatively weak intellectual property rights environment inside China. The use of hybrid varieties allows for some degree of protection from piracy since the GM hybrid varieties are more difficult for other farmers and seed companies to duplicate. However, if China can improve intellectual property rights or if the government were to step in and support research without regard to the question of whether the new GM rice varieties can be protected or not (since they may have a benefit to society as a whole), the current technology can be used in all varieties, not just hybrids.
Should China decide to commercialize GM rice, the implications could far exceed the effect on its own producers and consumers. Paarlberg (2003) suggests that if China were to commercialize a major crop, such as rice, it is possible that it would set off a chain reaction in the world. For example, if China were to commercialize rice, it possibly would clear the way for the production of GM wheat, maize, and other crops inside China. If China proceeded in this direction, this could encourage the large grain-producing nations, such as Canada, the Unted States, and Australia, to continue to expand their programs in GM wheat and other crops, since China is a likely target for their exports in the future. In addition, the commercialization of rice and other crops may induce other developing countries, such as India or Vietnam,
to expand their plant biotechnology programs. On the one hand, other developing countries might follow China in an effort to remain competitive. On the other hand, with a clear precedent, other leaders might be willing to adoptGM food crops to increase the income of their farmers as well as to improve their health. It is in this very real sense that the future of GM rice in China may have an important influence on the future of GM crops in the world.
Genetically Modified Animals
Genetically modified (GMO) fish are likely to dominate future fish farming by growing over two times faster than regular fish and being up to 30% more efficient with feed than regular fish. This would also make the GMO fish 350% more efficient with feed than cows are.
The FDA is clearing the way for genetically modified fish and animals to be supplied as food.
The FDA said genetically engineered animals, created for human use or consumption, will be regulated in the same way as veterinary drugs, meaning they will go through a safety review process. Aqua Bounty of Massachusetts is hoping to market its genetically engineered salmon, which grows to maturity in less time than wild or farmed salmon, but it awaits approval.
A cow requires around seven kilograms of feed grain for each kilo of meat, while a carp requires around three kilos or less. Fish farming economizes on feed grain, and of course on the land area needed to produce it.
Aqua Bounty Farms on Tuesday announced it is hopeful the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will in 2009 approve the company’s AquAdvantage Advanced farmed Atlantic salmon hybrid.
There are many geoengineering projects that have been proposed and are now being modeled and studied in detail.
The longer that no effective action is taken to rapidly shift transportation and power production and energy usage to environmentally benign sources then the more likely it is that planned geoengineering will be necessary.
Currently any changes to the environment which are being caused as a side effect of civilizations industries and people are unintentional. This also means that humans have the capability to intentionally alter the environment.
More moderate scale efforts at adaption to environmental changes are the tidal barrages, storm surge barriers and other adaptation projects.
Halcrow’s concept is based on a similar project that the firm has been involved with in St. Petersburg, where the Russian government has funded a 15-mile-long barrier that is due for completion in 2010.
The proposed extent of the barrier and causeway system is shown on the schematic plan above.
Here is a 58 slide presentation on the effects of specific storm surges and environmental effects that New York must prepare. It also show the history of similar projects.
According to the International Rivers Network, the cost of building the Three Gorges Dam will be $25 billion by the time it is completed, including relocation expenses for communities inundated by the dam. It is likely that building the tidal barrage in the Bay Area would likely be double or triple the cost of building a similar structure in China. A barrage may allow the Bay Area to avoid certain small-scale sea level rise adaptation costs such as population relocation and levee construction. So a more elaborate system of dikes and levees seems like the likely solution.
So each major city would need multi-billion projects (4-8 years to build) to create dikes or barriers to rising water or stronger storm surges. Geoengineering becomes an affordable option against the cost of other measures or no measures.
Many other cities and nations are looking at building or enhancing dike systems.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.