There are dozens and dozens of theories regarding how an apocalypse (or THE apocalypse) might occur. One of the ways the world might end, or at least our status as residents, is by massive plant overgrowth. For a glimpse of the risks, look no further than Monsanto‘s lovely line of products and their general attitude toward nature and their fellow human beings. (Watch Food, Inc. and follow the court battles in the news, if you’re unaware of this corporation’s impact and the implications of what they’re doing.)
The theory goes like this: someone genetically engineers super seeds that give rise to super plants that grow like crazy, have huge yields, are highly resistant to insects, and are also highly resistant to the very special pesticide sold by the same company. Farmers buy up the seeds along with lots and lots of the pesticide. Nature happens – the weeds and other unwanted plants develop a resistance to the pesticide. Farmers use more concentrated doses and buy the enhanced super seeds that can survive it. Nature happens again, looking for another way out of the box we’ve tried to put it in – the enhanced super plants and the unwanted plants get together and do the nature thing, giving rise to super weeds that share the insect and pesticide impervious traits of the engineered plants. Or, they give rise to a version of the desired plant that grows like…a weed. The plants overrun the planet, overwhelming other plants (including our food crops) in their way. They suck the moisture from the soil, turning massive areas into deserts covered in tinder dry, dead plants that burn away in huge fires. They eliminate the habitat for dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of species.
And the rest of the dominos fall.
I have a story out looking for a home that is set in a post apocalyptic world where soy bean crops cover everything except isolated islands of humanity. A sea of green that you have to keep cutting or burning back and, even then, it might just be a matter of time.
The past few days, I’ve been wondering if poison ivy might be a more likely natural world scythe to cut us down. My wife is suffering with a pretty nasty case of it. Started out on her wrists and then began popping up in lots of other places.
Poison ivy is just pervasive where we live now. Much worse than I remember it being when I grew up in a different part of New England and spent lots of time in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Having done some quick research, it’s not my imagination. Poison ivy loves to grow in edge areas bordering forests and in disturbed zones. In other words, anywhere where we’ve moved in and constructed housing developments.
But it’s more than that. Poison ivy is devious and strong. It can appear as ground cover or as a bush or as vines climbing trees or rocks. The vines can shoot out lateral branches that can be mistaken for thin tree branches. It can grow at altitudes up to 4,900 feet. It can grow in forests or fields. It can survive long droughts as well as floods. It can grow in many soil types and doesn’t mind brackish water. Studies at Duke University indicate that the current climate change trends will lead to an expansion of its range.
Humans become sensitized to poison ivy via repeated or more concentrated exposure. Severe allergic reactions can include aniphylactic shock. Inhaling smoke from burning poison ivy can do a fatal number on your lungs. Eating it can damage the airway and digestive tract.
So…what happens if it does the nature thing with engineered super plants?