President’s Letter—The Uniting Power of Green

Katie DeheshClimate change knows no borders. This obvious truth, and the well-recognized impacts of global warming on agriculture and food security, as well as the broad scope of individual and organizational efforts to ameliorate this urgent threat, were on display at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on October 31–November 12, 2021. Presentations at COP26 ranged from descriptions by governments of national-level efforts to reduce fossil fuel–based carbon emissions and reduce rising atmospheric CO2 levels to reports by individual research groups and organizations on carbon capture initiatives using an array of technological applications and coordinated biosphere approaches.

Efforts to reduce current CO2 levels comprise a spectrum of nonbiological and biological methods. The nonbiological methods encompass a large array of technological applications exploiting chemical and physical approaches. The biological approaches are centered primarily on the understanding that natural carbon storage is by far the most impactful climate solution we can implement apart from cutting fossil fuel emissions. Efforts to use the CO2 fixation capacity of plants, broadly targeted at the capture and storage of carbon above and/or below ground, are being pursued. For example, halting and reversing forest loss and expanding and diversifying existing forests are among the most effective terrestrial approaches to capturing and storing carbon. The IPCC ( estimated that 1 billion ha of forest would keep global warming increases below 1.5°C by 2050.

Time is short. Let us act now. Be in touch and share your thoughts at

An additional seminal strategy was eloquently formulated by Joanne Chory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in her acceptance speech for the 2018 award for Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. This strategy targets exploiting our understanding of the intrinsic biology of plants. Although plants are effective in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis, that fixed carbon is ultimately recycled back to the environment. Chory has proposed and is implementing a strategy to ensure that the captured CO2 is sequestered in a nonrecyclable form for an extended period. She is using genetic engineering to generate plants that both convert captured carbon into enhanced levels of suberin in the roots and produce larger and deeper roots. This suberin, sequestered in the subterranean root biomass, is refractory to degradation by soil microflora, thus providing long-term underground carbon storage, resistance to re-emission to the atmosphere, and sequestration.

What can we do? As individual plant biologists, we can give some thought to how we might be able to use our own knowledge and experience with plant systems to develop new approaches that might contribute to plant-mediated CO2 capture and sequestration. In addition, as we are all aware, there are widespread discussions, proposals, activities, and organizations aimed at curtailing climate change. As individuals, we can, like all other members of society,

  • become politically active,
  • join efforts and campaigns at the local level to reduce carbon-based energy use,
  • formulate proposals and inject them into public discourse,
  • educate and hopefully influence climate-skeptical members of our society,
  • participate in public debates,
  • visit classrooms,
  • contribute financially to supporting such efforts, and
  • help raise awareness of the small ways individuals can contribute on a daily basis.

But how can we best use the power of the united voices of our ASPB membership to make a difference in climate change?

I am by no means an expert in dealing with the broad scope of issues raised by climate change, but as ASPB president, I would like to represent you in conveying the extent of the existing research efforts of our individual members toward addressing climate change and in presenting our consensus views to those we may be able to influence. Thus, I am asking you all, as members of ASPB, to share your research programs, thoughts, views, suggestions, and so forth on what the content of our agenda should be and the targets you think may be most receptive to our input as an association of plant biologists.

What can we, as a Society, do to contribute to the solution of this critical global problem? Our existing efforts include the upcoming Plant Biology 2022 ( and the information and events hub provided by the Plantae Global Plant Science Events Calendar ( But how else can we best use the international network of ASPB members to address this issue? And how can we best engage ASPB members to be part of the solution to this global problem using the uniting power of green?

Time is short. Let us act now. Be in touch and share your thoughts at

1 thought on “President’s Letter—The Uniting Power of Green”

  1. I think there are several ways ASPB as a society can address climate change. First, by supporting mentoring and educational programs that showcase opportunities at multiple scales—from the cell to the landscape, where research leads to mitigation of agricultural impacts on climate change. From perennial food crops like Kernza to genes in traditional grain crops for water-use efficiency. Members worldwide and their students need to know that there are ways to integrate their passion for plant science with climate change mitigation/reduction and learn from those who are experts in this arena.

    Political: ASPB can use its political clout to encourage leadership of the USDA, EPA, USGS and other relevant government agencies to prioritize funding and resources for climate change mitigation and actionable research.

    Avoid greenwashing: We’ve all seen cases where researchers whose work has little bearing on climate change “use” tenuous links to the issue to appeal to funding agencies, especially though not exclusively at state levels. Industry exploits these tricks to “look good” as environmental citizens. It spreads misinformation, misappropriates research funding, and erodes public trust. Surely ASPB can do something to discourage this.


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