As concern about waste grows, researchers and commercial partners around the world are working to turn what’s now being left behind or burned into new, useful products. By doing so, they hope to not only reduce the adverse environmental impacts of agriculture but also provide a new source of income for farmers.
And here …The planet’s plants pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, stems and roots. Some of that carbon makes its way into the soil, and some of that soil carbon is ultimately mothballed for millennia.
These days, though, “we as humans are putting up so much CO2 that the Earth is not able to compensate,” says Wolfgang Busch, a plant biologist with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Busch is working on a new project: to design plants that can suck even more CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it away for centuries.
Three examples of genetic engineering of crops show that extremely modest engineered changes in plant genetics can result in very important benefits. These three examples involve engineered changes that trigger the natural defenses of the plant without introducing novel defense mechanisms.
Nitrogen emissions from agriculture can exacerbate particulate pollution, endangering human health. There has been a lot of progress in addressing that, but much still needs to be done.
Once seen as too remote to harm, the deep sea is facing new pressures from mining, pollution, overfishing and more.
Farmers around the world have come to depend on manufactured inorganic fertilizers containing key plant nutrients phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium to enhance soil fertility, especially in the otherwise poor soils of most tropical settings. But while all three are relatively abundant in nature, commercially viable sources of phosphorus to make these fertilizers could be exhausted just a few decades from now. That prospect, which remains a source of heated debate, has spurred a drive to recover the significant quantities of this element that disappear in the waste streams of cities and farms.
Some 705,000 tons of fishing gear are lost or discarded in the ocean every year, and each year this gear captures and kills, among other things, an estimated 136,000 seals, sea lions and whales. A few companies and harbor masters are taking steps to address that.
From acres of sheeting to miles of twine, farms use billions of pounds of plastic each year. What can we do to reduce the impact?