Hope for carbon-eating GM trees


Biotechnology is very likely to dominate the second half of the 21st century, just as computer technology dominated the second half of the 20th century. This is why the former Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson reckons that the solution to growing GHG emissions will come from genetic manipulation of our vast Northern forests.

His hope is based on the famous Keeling graph to be found here. It shows that about 8 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed and returned in a yearly cycle by the earth's vegetation. This means that the average lifetime of a carbon molecule is just 12 years. This rapid exchange is of fundamental importance because:

In the unlikely event that human-induced global warming were to prove a real problem, we’d have far more time up our collective sleeve to finetune the preferred level of atmospheric CO2…

Freeman thinks in the next 20 to 50 years scientists might be able to create carbon-eating trees, which could absorb most of the atmospheric carbon, convert it into a stable form and bury it into the ground. He suggests:

If one-quarter of the world’s forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in 50 years.