Altering the natural genetics of trees and increasing the use of glyphosate might not strike many sensible people as “environmentally friendly.”

Yet both are being pushed by climate activists as helpful in meeting “zero carbon” emissions goals.

Beyond that, and genetic science advances, in part thanks to the power of Artificial intelligence, the specter of political bodies mandating “genetic legislation” that would encode heritable changes in plants, animals—and humans—is moving closer to reality.

Company Plans to Introduce Five Million Gene-Edited Trees Into The Environment in 2024

Starting next year, a San Francisco company called “Living Carbon” is planning to market up to 500 million gene edited poplar trees for implantation.

The company has already planted the altered poplars in Georgia as part of its research.

According to a February 2023 Smithsonian magazine article citing The New York Times, the grandiose scheme represents the first time that genetically modified trees will be introduced in U.S. Forest lands outside of a research trial. (“Genetically Modified Trees Are Taking Root to Capture Carbon,” 21 Feb 2023.)

The trees involved have been genetically altered to sequester more C02.

To hear company Yumin Tao, Living Carbon’s VP of Biotechnology tell it, trees as naturally existent in nature are deficient in their design compared to what his company has managed to design. 

Tao says photosynthesis of poplars—and most other trees and plants—produces too many toxic byproducts, which need to be broken down during that process of using sunlight to convert carbon into sugars and nutrients.

“This not only wastes energy but also loses a lot of fixed carbon in the form of CO2, which gets released into the air again. It’s a wasteful process that a lot of plants do.”

“A lot of plants.” If that signals plans to radically expand what many might consider an already radical introduction of gene edited plants into the environment, that’s because genetic scientists like those at Living Carbon see no practical or ethical bounds to their pursuits.

As company CEO Maddie Hall put in a blog post:

“Living Carbon is our answer to the question: Are we capable of storing carbon with the same ingenuity that allowed us to release it? In short, yes. We can enter a new ecological and economic age where we use the power of plants to capture and store more carbon.”

The trees involved in the 2024 plans are technically classified as “GMOs” or Genetically Modified Organisms.

GMOs contain genetic material from other species of plants or even animals. “Genetically edited” refers to gene edits made on the genome of an organism, not involving introducing genetics from other organisms.

And “Heritable Gene Editing” refers to altering genetics of an organism in a way that those alterations can be passed to new generations, thus entering the general gene pool.

Some GMO designed organisms, such as GMO corn, can pass on their genetic modifications to new generations, which has especially raised the concern of at least some environmentalists.

Mexico, for example, is currently entangled in a dispute with the U.S., because they have refused to accept GMO corn as suitable for crops. 

As far as Living Carbon’s expansive plans, some experts are not convinced that their genetic products will have the benefits the company promises.

SUNY conservation biologist Andrew Newhouse told The New York Times, “Their claims seem bold based on very limited real-world data.” 

The only public data supporting Living Carbon’s claims comes from a study which has not yet been peer reviewed, and which covered a very short time frame of just a few months.

Poplars, a relatively short-lived tree, typically lasts for around 50 years.

In addition, poplars are much utilized in the Southern U.S. to harvest in the making of paper products.

Paper production—like practically any commercial production activity—has carbon emissions impacts, as noted by a 2020 Bioresources research paper “Life cycle carbon footprint analysis of pulp and paper grades in the United States using production-line-based data and integration.”

As climate activists made news this past week for a stunt trying to save an old cedar tree in Seattle from being cut down, it might be asked why there is so little concern surrounding the prospect of introducing millions of GMO trees into forest lands. (“Seattle climate activists roost in old cedar tree to prevent it from being cut down for new housing,” 21 Jul 2023.)

Humans the Inevitable Next Frontier Of Genetic “Improvement”

If it’s acceptable to genetically modify virtually the entire natural world to combat climate change or “improve” genetics for other purposes, it’s doubtful that mandating changes to human genetics won’t be on the table.

The Trends Journal has been extensively covering how world bodies and influential science organizations like the Royal Society have been working to open the door to human genetic engineering.

Though recent mainstream articles and opinions advocating for redesigning humans to combat climate change may be scarce, the idea is hardly new.

The Atlantic published an article in 2012 espousing radical recommendations for doing just that. (“How Engineering the Human Body Could Combat Climate Change,” 12 Mar 2012.)

We asked, an Artificial Intelligence platform, which unlike most others, cites sources for information it provides, to “Please list some resources and info regarding modifying human genetics to combat climate change.”

Here are some sourced links and summary info it returned:

  • “Application of Gene Editing for Climate Change in Agriculture” (Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems,” 07 Sep 2021. 1: This article discusses how gene editing can be used to improve crops and livestock in response to climate change. It presents examples of emerging gene editing applications and research initiatives that are aimed at the improvement of crops and livestock in response to climate change.
  • “WHO issues new recommendations on human genome editing for the advancement of public health,” WHO, 12 Jul 2021 2: This article discusses the governance and oversight of human genome editing in nine discrete areas. The reports published deliver recommendations on the governance and oversight of human genome editing.
  • “Is Editing the Genome for Climate Change Adaptation Ethically Justifiable?” Dec 2017 3: This article discusses whether it is ethically justifiable to edit the human genome to enhance our ability to adapt to a changing climate. It explores the question of whether we should use gene editing not only to prevent significant disease but also to enhance our ability to function in the world. 
  • “What are the Ethical Concerns of Genome Editing?” NIH Human Genome Research Institute,” updated 3 Aug 2017. 4: This resource discusses the ethical concerns of genome editing, including human germline editing, which changes are passed down to future generations. It explores how some researchers and bioethicists are concerned that any genome editing, even for therapeutic uses, will start us on a slippery slope to using it for non-therapeutic and enhancement purposes, which many view as controversial.

It’s clear that some genetic scientists are openly advocating for modifying human genetics to combat climate change, and that others, including the NIH, have contemplated and acknowledged a “slippery slope” in the use of genetic editing for an expanding scope of uses.

Good for the Earth: Glyphosate?

Many people might assume that environmentalists are leading the charge against the use of chemicals like glyphosate, which has been linked with Cancer.

That assumption actually runs counter to arguments that climate activists have made, that the use of the controversial weed killer is crucially beneficial to limiting carbon emissions.

At the annual environmentalist COP meeting in November 2021 (COP26), for example, though not specifically cited, glyphosate was implicitly defended as important to improving crop yields and reducing carbon emissions in developing agricultural regions.

Multiple studies and environmentalist publications like Hortweek have argued that the environmental “carbon” benefits of glyphosate use outweigh other concerns.

The chemical is widely used in the Roundup weed killing product, originally produced by Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018.

Hortweek has cited reports claiming glyphosate is safe and ‘sustainable’: concerning the product:

“An independent scientific report assessing three different types of weed killer judged glyphosate ‘the most effective and sustainable weed control method currently available.’” (“Council trial finds glyphosate ‘most sustainable weed control’.”)

A 2021 Canadian study, meanwhile, determined that GMO crops and glyphosate use over a period of 30 years had substantially improved crop yields of Saskatchewan farmers over the past 30 years. 

According to the paper:

“The improved weed control contributed by these technologies provided farmers with an increased opportunity to reduce or eliminate tillage and summer fallow practices. Farmers indicate that without the availability of HT technology, hectares managed with summer fallow would increase from 1 percent to 23 percent, representing a decrease in annual sequestration from Saskatchewan soils of about 2.2 million Mg SOC.”

Some organizations, like the Glyphosate Renewal Group, have emphasized the benefits of the chemical in regard to carbon emissions.

In September 2022, the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared it could not meet a court deadline to assess the health and environmental impacts of glyphosate, Chemical & Engineering News reported. (“EPA punts glyphosate decision,” 26 Sep 2022.) 

As a result, while the EPA further studies the issue, glyphosate can remain on the market until at least 2026.

During the Trump administration, a EPA study concluded in an interim study that glyphosate posed no risks to human health. 

The EPA permitted the herbicide to remain available for sale, with some added label messaging concerning managing spray drift, and warning about herbicide resistance.

The Trends Journal has covered issues and concerns surrounding GMOs and glyphosate in articles such as:

The Trends Journal has also been forecasting and reporting on the expansion of gene editing to humans that will occur, in attempts to “improve” human genetics to combat climate change, render humans more socially benign, and for other reasons. See, for example:

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