Having listened to the BBC’s Costing the Earth show, I can report that it was very much what you would expect from a BBC show about the environment. For example, the first guest interviewed was Professor Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew Gardens. Who also turns out to be professor of “biodiversity” at Oxford. And a trustee of WWF-UK. Hmm.
Equally unsurprising was the fact that there was lots of worrying going on. Crops are facing “increased uncertainty”, apparently. Potatoes, yam and cassava are going to be “the crops of the future” because they store most of their biomass underground. In fact, presenter James Wong swiftly managed to conjure up a vision of everyone being forced to live off tubers, by eliding directly into a claim that we are going to have to “adapt our diets to the climate”.
Although the programme purported to be about the effect of climate change on crops, in fact it was almost all about drought resistance. The case that the future will be drier was never explained though; nor did we learn anything of the recent history of drought, namely that they are less prevalent than before and that we are getting better at dealing with them. There was just a hint of the lack of any firm basis for the programme when we learned that dry winters are “characteristic of what certain experts may be predicting”, which is a strange form of words if ever I saw one.
Mercifully, after a brief detour to the USA, where climate is (allegedly) “changing faster than plants can adapt”, the focus shifted away from science fiction and back to where it should be, namely science fact, in the shape of a discussion about tactics for bringing extra genetic diversity into the crop gene pool. This was interesting enough, but does seem slightly foolish in a world that seems to be getting greener rather quickly.
But then, when you think about it, the funding for research on drought resistance would presumably come quite a lot more slowly if there was no vision of disaster on the horizon.