What is Heirloom?
Heirloom seeds come from open-pollinated plants that pass on similar characteristics and traits from the parent plant to the child plant. There is no concrete definition that every gardener uses to define heirloom plants. Some people state that heirloom plants are those that were introduced before 1951, while others state that heirloom varieties are those introduced before the 1920s. In general, you should consider heirlooms to be seeds that are possible to regrow and pass on from one generation to the next.
One important thing to note for heirloom plants is whether they are organic or non-organic. In most cases, heirloom plants are organic because they are generally only used by small-scale gardeners who do not use pesticide or other harmful chemicals. However, there may be minor cases when chemicals do get involved since heirloom plants do not always have a similar level of innate protection that hybrid and GMO plants provide against diseases and pests. Remember, heirloom refers to the heritage of a plant, while organic refers to a growing practice. They are two different things.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid vs. GMO
There are some distinct differences that one should be aware of when it comes to heirloom, hybrid and GMO plants. First, heirloom plants are the only ones that breed true. As mentioned earlier, this means the same characteristics are passed on from generation to generation. The same cannot be said for hybrid and GMO. Hybrid plants are produced when different varieties of plants are cross-pollinated, which can happen with or without human intervention. Because there are different varieties of plants involved, it can’t be guaranteed that the offspring of hybrid plants produces identical traits as the parent plant.
Both heirloom and hybrid plants can be viewed as natural occurrences. GMO plants, on the other hand, can only be produced using unnatural methods such as gene splicing. Scientists essentially modify a seed’s DNA to ensure the resulting plant produces the desired traits and characteristics. A common example of a GMO plant is Bt-Corn.
Why Grow Heirloom Seeds
If hybrid and GMO seeds grow plants with useful traits, why should you grow heirloom plants instead? First, heirlooms are generally known to produce better taste and flavor. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are also known to be more nutritious. Last but not least, they are less expensive over the long haul. Heirloom plants may require a bit more care than their counterparts but the effort you put in will be worth it! Don’t forget that you would also be playing an important part in preserving the genetic diversity of plants by growing heirloom seeds. After all, how can hybrid seeds be produced without the existence of the original seeds?
Where to Find Heirloom Seeds
With the demand for heirloom seeds increasing, you will find that it isn’t as difficult as before to obtain them. There are certain places you might want to check out to get seeds locally. These places include: local farms, seed exchanges, and botanical gardens. How can you be sure that the seeds you are getting definitely came from heirloom plants? One thing you might want to look out for is the Safe Seed Pledge. Although it isn’t regulated, the Safe Seed Pledge is still a good sign that the company is only providing non-GMO products. Most of the well-known seed companies have already signed up for this pledge so look out for it on the seed company websites.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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