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GMOs and Climate Change: The Unexpected Truth

Rachel Lark - November 5, 2023

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Although many people aren’t fond of genetically modified foods, they are essential for the fight against climate change. It might come as a surprise, but they have all sorts of hidden benefits. The role of GMOs in climate change is more significant than most people think.

What Are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are animals, plants, or microorganisms that humans have intentionally adjusted for specific purposes. Genetic engineers often change the genetic makeup of food to make it bigger, tastier, or easier to grow. Once they favorably alter DNA, they make the change permanent so future crops will behave in the same way. 

Many people don’t prefer to eat GMOs because they think they’re unnatural and unhealthy. Instead, many people prefer organic food since it’s non-GMO and supposedly better. However, it doesn’t have as positive of an impact on the planet. Surprisingly, genetically engineered food is much better at combating climate change. 

How Do GMOs and Climate Change Connect?

GMOs and climate change directly connect because the agriculture industry is responsible for over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, producing food for human consumption accounts for up to 37% of emissions every year. It’s very likely the only way things will change is with direct human intervention and genetic modification. 

Even though scientists have previously focused on traits like size and taste, they can alter environment-related variables instead. For example, they could make a tomato plant more resistant to high temperatures and drought. Using genetic engineering to prevent climate change is a promising opportunity. 

Can GMOs Combat Climate Change?

Scientists can use GMOs for climate change prevention. There are many ways to alter food’s genetic makeup, giving them plenty of opportunities to reproduce beneficial traits. Over time, the agriculture industry will use them to significantly reduce its adverse environmental contributions.

Here are the main ways GMOs can combat climate change:

  • Space: Scientists can make GMOs bigger, increasing crop yields while taking up less land. More food in a smaller area means far less greenhouse gas emissions. Also, farmers could install solar panels or support local wildlife in the extra space. 
  • Sustainability: GMOs can produce less and absorb more greenhouse gas emissions than regular plants. In fact, experts believe Europe could see a 7.5% reduction in the agriculture sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions just with more GMO use.
  • Durability: Altering GMOs with climate change-related traits makes them more equipped to handle adverse environmental changes. They can withstand drought, extreme temperatures, and severe weather much better than non-GMO variants. 

Genetically engineered food can capture current greenhouse gasses, reduce future emissions, and even withstand the effects of climate change. Going forward, they’re one of the world’s best options to secure a sustainable future.  

How Are GMOs Combating Climate Change?

Scientists use GMOs to shrink greenhouse gas emissions, significantly slowing the progression of climate change. For instance, they’ve been developing various genetically engineered crops specifically to capture carbon dioxide. Although their effects aren’t widespread yet, they have the potential to minimize the agriculture industry’s adverse impacts.

Already, many of the world’s brightest minds have joined forces to improve crops and combat climate change with genetic modification. Even minor changes can make a significant, lasting impact. In fact, adding or altering a single trait in one crop could make a massive difference. 

For example, the C4 Rice Project — a mission to improve the environmental impact of rice — aims to only introduce the C4 trait. They want to use it to genetically engineer the crop, more than doubling the efficiency of its water use and photosynthesis process. They could grow the resulting GMO with 60% less water if they’re successful. 

Why Is It Important to Use GMOs?

It’s crucial to use GMOs because food is a vital part of life. While humans can shrink their carbon footprints with a switch to renewable energy or public transportation, they’ll always need food. Even if you force everyone on the planet to farm and eat sustainably, agriculture will continue contributing to climate change unless humans intervene.

Since the global population continues to grow, change becomes more crucial. In fact, experts believe it will rise to 9.8 billion people by 2050, a sharp increase from 7.8 billion in 2023. The agriculture industry would have to significantly increase production with that many mouths to feed, producing far more greenhouse gasses. 

GMOs are one of the few solutions to the agriculture industry’s growing impact on climate change. They may not be the only option, but they’re the single feasible one. Unlike other methods, genetic modification is widely accessible. Scientists have the technology, know which traits to target, and can build on years of existing research. 

Should We Use GMOs for Climate Change?

The world should use GMOs in climate change prevention strategies. Even though many people feel wary about them, they have tremendous potential. On top of being able to absorb carbon dioxide more efficiently, they can reduce the agriculture industry’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. They’re both a current and future solution, making them an ideal choice.

Already, researchers and food companies around the world use GMOs in a majority of their acreages. In the United States, over 90% of staple crops — corn, soybeans, and cotton — are genetically modified. Essentially, it proves that it’s easy to implement and scale this solution. As its popularity increases, more people will see how beneficial it is. 

Even if the fight against climate change isn’t ultimately successful, GMOs are still essential. A sustainable alternative is crucial since most produce won’t survive extreme temperatures and severe weather. They’re one of the only feasible solutions the world has.

It Might Be Time to Accept GMOs

Amazingly, scientists can force plants and animals to be good for the planet. Even though it’s not necessarily natural, plenty of life-saving inventions only came from human intervention and innovation. If the world is going to be successful in the fight against climate change, they need to utilize the power of GMOs.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.