How Plants Find Water in a Changed Climate: Scientific Research for Human Survival

The conversation about climate change is, by necessity, shifting. No longer can we frame climate change’s consequences exclusively in terms of the future tense and “what-ifs.” In a world whose climate has changed, and will continue to do so, we have also lost the luxury of pouring our resources exclusively into preventative measures. We also need to mitigate and adapt.

Though this year has been a record-breaker in hurricanes, we have also annually come to expect record droughts and forest fires. While less immediate, extended dry periods are no less dangerous to our society and even species, particularly as our food security depends highly on a certain degree of predictability when it comes to rainfall, temperature, the types and quantity of pests found in certain regions, and other factors.

The United States has over 300 million people. What happens if a bad crop year results in a 30 or 40 percent loss of harvested food? It’s something that Americans under 90 have basically never experienced.

Pay attention to the research of plant scientist José Dinneny, because the work of his colleagues and him might actually save us from starvation, if the pace of progress can manage to match the increasing pace of climate change. His research has been focused on the way plants seek out and find water.

So much of PhD-level science is focused on world-class expertise in a very narrow, but fundamental area of human understanding, but Dinneny is one of those rare scientific omnivores. He is fascinated by a wide array of topics, positioning him to draw connections between not only his own but other scientists’ research in cellular chemistry, plant behavior, and growth patterns.

Dinneny’s is tying this all together to figure out, amongst other things, how plants find water. His work could lead to breakthroughs in crop development that allow our farmers to adapt to a world in which droughts are just one more kind of “natural disaster” to have become both more frequent and more severe in many of our agricultural regions.

It also provides the perfect example of why basic research in all areas of science is more important than ever. Technological breakthroughs don’t come out of nowhere. Work in fundamental science makes them possible. Remember, this is just one area of need: we also need to deal with sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events, to name a few more.

Those of us concerned about climate change and its effects (a rapidly-growing and, I hope, increasingly less partisan group), need to push for and support not only environmental protection, government regulation of oil and gas, and support for a greening economy, all necessary and worthwhile approaches to slowing and ultimate stopping climate change. We also need to push for approaches to dealing with the new reality of surviving and adapting to a changed and still changing climate. That means increasing the budgets for government-funded research organizations and government-provided grants, like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and more.

It is penny-wise and pound-foolish (in fact, it’s not even penny-wise) to cut from these already tiny and underfunded budgets while planning to make (for example) gargantuan tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and increase the United States’ already outsized military presence.

It’s time for a new Manhattan Project or Apollo Program, one that involves the kind of political and financial commitment appropriate to such a grave, existential threat. Seriously, how many hurricanes, droughts, and forest fires will it take before we bring a proportionate response to humanity’s greatest crisis?

Photo credit: Ikiwaner


Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

Thank you

Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

Dan Blossfeld, is predictably on here telling lies. But ultimately he is responsible for the fact of massive destruction of our environment due to the dirty fossil fuel nightmare Blossfeld is peddling. Blossfeld you are NOT an expert at anything despite your ridiculous lab coat glasses avatar. You are simply a grade school dropout propagandist, and not even a good propagandist, you fail at everything.

Freya H
Freya Habout a year ago

This is why we need MORE science in our schools. We also need to give up the ridiculous teach-to-the-test method and instead encourage kids to really THINK. As Plutarch said, "A mind is not an empty vessel to be filled, it is a fire to be kindled."

Marija M
Marija Mabout a year ago

Interesting, tks for sharing.

Muff-Anne York-Haley
Muff-Anne York-Haleyabout a year ago


Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a year ago


Dan B
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

Peggy B.,
Yes, there is a problem with too much rain in some areas. There will always be some negatives. But we need to look at the bigger picture. More food production has led to decreased hunger.

Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

Don B... And some crops are rotting in fields due to abnormal rain. And areas where there wasn't drought there now is....

Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago


One Heart i
One Heart incabout a year ago