My name is Hope Jahren. I’m a professor at
the University of Hawaii. I study the history of photosynthesis on the planet. I’m interested
in how plants have evolved over very long periods of time. I, as a scientist, believe
that our first responsibility is to feed and shelter what might be the end of thirteen
billion people three hundred years from now. We’re going to have to grow more food than ever.
We’re going to have to distribute it better. We’re going to have to do it with
a fundamentally different biology. I worry a lot about carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere and we’re already in a mode that the Earth hasn’t sensed before glacial times.
In my lab, we’re subjecting plants to the kind of conditions that we believe they’ll see two
hundred, three hundred years from now. Those levels are so high that we believe it’s
going to kind of push plants up into a whole other step function. When you give plants a whole
bunch of CO2, it’s like giving you a bunch of money in your pocket. What are you going to do
with it? And what we’ve seen is that plants tend to spend this money underground. So one
thing I talk a lot about is the importance of root crops in the next two hundred, three hundred
years. Does it make sense to have so many people in the world very dependent on rice,
and corn, and wheat, and plants that build their edible tissues above ground? Is it time
to start thinking about whether it’s smarter to have more of the world cultivating and
distributing things like sweet potatoes, things like yams? I’m very optimistic that
the way we treat food, the way we move money, and resources, and energy through the food is
a very tractable problem. We know how to breed plants and we know how to perform
agriculture. And I think that we can make some good decisions and build a better
future when we decide we want to.