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March 21, 2024 28 mins

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What's up, Plant People?? Living through all the *unprecedented times* we have been over the past few years has really gotten old. I think a lot fewer things should be getting precedented, but that's just me. We could all use a little more hope in our lives because, as Dr. Katharine Hayhoe discussed in Episode 102, it's the thing that drives us to change and positive action. Here at the beginning of Spring this year, I wanted to talk about a couple of stories I found recently which brought me a little bit of hope. Be good, be safe, and be kind, my friends, and never give up hope!

Reclaimed Coal Mine Story
Plants Are Better Than We Thought at Sequestering Carbon

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Planthropology is written, hosted, and produced by Vikram Baliga. Our theme song is "If You Want to Love Me, Babe, by the talented and award-winning composer, Nick Scout.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
What is up?
Plant people.
It's time once more for thePlantropology podcast, the show
where we dive into the lives andcareers of some very cool plant
people to figure out why theydo what they do and what keeps
them coming back for more.
I'm Vikram Beliga, your hostand your humble guide in this
journey through the sciences and, as always, my friends, I am so
happy to be with you today.
Y'all, I have today for youwhat I hope is an uplifting and

fun and hopefully joyful episode, because it's spring.
As I record this, today is the20th of March in the year 2024
for you future folks listeningto this, or I guess you current
folks listening to this as well,whatever, and the first day of
spring was yesterday and I'vebeen thinking a lot about what I

wanted to put out for the firstday of spring and the phrase
hope springs eternal kept comingto mind for some reason, and I
don't know if I heard itsomewhere on the internet or
social media or whatever, butit's just been stuck in my head.
So I thought I would talk todayabout reasons we can be hopeful
, or reasons that I'm hopeful,and some stories in the news and

some conservation and climatechange and other stories that
have brought me hope, as well assome things that I've seen in
my students and in my work thathave made me hopeful, because I
think that at the end of the day, when life is hard and when
things are rough and sometimesbad like maybe they have been
globally and they have beenglobally that it's our capacity

for hope that drives us forwardand keeps us going.
So I just wanted to give you abite sized, short little episode
today to celebrate thebeginning of spring and to maybe
give you a little bit of hopein the midst of your day.
So this will be a short one.
We're not going to do a midroll, so I want to get some of the
housekeeping out of the way hereat the beginning.
So first off, I want to thankyou for listening and for being

a part of Plainthropology.
It's still and consistently andalways will mean the world to
Thanks to the Texas TechDepartment of Plant and Soul
Science for letting me do thisshow and for supporting it in
the Davis College at Texas Techas well, for being a part of the
show and for being sosupportive.
Thanks to the PodFix Networkfor letting me be a part of it.
But some exciting news.

Today, y'all, I have newpodcast music and this is
something I've been talkingabout, for if you've been
following along for a while,literally like two years, and
I've told myself for two years,you know, I'm going to record
some, I'm going to write somepodcast music and I'm going to
record it and put it up here,and I clearly never have.
So we've been rocking with ourjangly music for a few years and

I like it.
I think you like it as well.
But recently I've been thinking, you know, I would really
really like to update it.
And so a little while ago,maybe several weeks, my friend,
lauren was talking about how herpartner is a composer and has
written music for movies andpodcasts and stuff like that,
and I was like, oh yeah, thatwould be super cool to have a

custom song written.
So I got in touch throughLauren and Nick Scout is the
composer of our new music forPlantropology and we went back
and forth a couple of times andhe so well, I think, captured
the warm and fun and folksy, Ihope, or I like to think this
show is folksy.
Is it folksy?

You let me know Nature ofPlantropology.
So here, in just a second.
I'm going to play it for youand I'd love to hear your
thoughts on it because I'm veryexcited about it.
So a huge shout out to NickScout for recording this.
Nick is now an award winningcomposer, which is just the
coolest thing.
So, without any further ado,let's talk about some reasons to

be hopeful.
Let's listen to a great new bitof music from Nick Scout and
get yourselves ready for episode104 of the Plantropology
podcast, hope Springs Eternal.
You know, wasn't that fun.

I enjoyed that so much, I am sohappy with it, and so thanks
again, nick, for all the workyou put into this and for
hearing my feedback and doing ita couple of times and just just
working through it with me.
Again, it means a lot and I amso happy to have some new music
for the show.
So on that note, on a happy,joyous, warm and guitar note,

let's jump into a shortdiscussion about hope and the
phrase hope springs eternal,because, again, I've been
thinking about this a lot.
So this phrase hope springseternal the full quote is by
Alexander Pope and it goes hopesprings eternal in the human
Man never is, but always to beblessed.
So we're always hoping to beblessed, and it's sort of tongue

in cheek, as I think, opposedto how people use it sometimes,
and it's really intended to saywell, we continue to hope for
things that probably won'thappen.
So I would love to win thelottery, but I probably won't.
But hope springs eternal.
I'm always hoping for that.
I would have to buy a lotteryticket, which I don't do, so
that's maybe not a great example, but I think our capacity for

hope again, and the hope, inspite of everything, to hope,
even given the odds of somethinghappening or not happening or
whatever, is what makes us, in alot of ways, so beautiful as a
species, the fact that we arerelentlessly and recklessly
Sometimes it drives us forward.

And I'm thinking back again tomy episode from a couple of
weeks ago with Dr KatherineHayhoe, which, if you have not
listened to that, please gocheck that out.
Katherine is a sort ofworld-renowned climate scientist
and communicator and is reallyjust one of the most wonderful
people I know.
I really enjoyed thatconversation, but something she
said has also stuck with me, andthat is that if we don't hope,

we don't try, and so what shewas talking about in that
episode is in relation toclimate change or any kind of I
don't know disaster or hardthing that we deal with.
A lot of people, unfortunately,as they communicate about it
and then understand why is theycatastrophize right?

They talk about like, oh,everything is lost, like we've
got five years to live, like wecan't fix these problems.
They're so big.
And in some ways, that sort of Idon't know scare tactic is the
right word.
But that way of communicating,I think, is intended to like
shock people into action, that,oh gosh, like we're in trouble,
we need to do something, andthere is something to that and

that can be very important.
But at the same time, if we doit to the extent where people
don't have hope for a betterfuture, they don't have hope
that anything they do can dealwith that problem, like we don't
try, like we won't try, and interms of all of the challenges
we face, from human rightsissues to climate change and

food supply and everything inbetween, we have to hold on to
our capacity to hope, because ifwe don't try, we won't solve it
And so that has been on my mindso much the past few weeks, and
I just recently lost mygrandmother on my dad's side and

something that I remember fromher when I was growing up.
Now she lived in India and Ididn't like I spent time with
her when I was younger andgrowing up, but not as much as I
maybe did with some of myfamily here in the States, but
she was always so like brightand hopeful and positive and
just sort of a joy to be around.

And I think about my grandfather, too, who passed away back in
2020 on my mom's side, who whowas also so hopeful, lived
through hard times, livedthrough a lot of things, but
always approached life with joyand hope and just sort of this

like I don't know purity ofspirit that I always found very
you know, I was gonna say that Ialways found very inspirational
, and I think I probably didn'tas a kid, like I think it's only
in retrospect, as an adult,that I look back and, I think,
realize how much power andstrength there is in joy and
hope even foolish hope, evenreckless hope.

So I've been looking for thingseven through a busy and hectic
and sort of wild andoverwhelming several weeks of my
life for things that bring mehope, and so I just wanted to
talk about a few of the things Ifound, and one of the reasons I
was looking for this too is Irecently got to write a guest

edit and be the guest editor forCatherine's newsletter.
Catherine Heyho's newsletterTalking Climate and part of what
she does in that is has asection in there about a good
story, a hopeful story, a happystory, and as I was researching
different kind of things thathave happened in plant science
or in the plant science space orthe green space kind of in

general over the past year thatwas hopeful and joyful and good
good news I found a couple ofthings that I wanted to discuss
and that really I thought wereso cool.
So the first one is actuallyone that I wrote about in the
newsletter and this was a storythat came out last July and it's

a project that's been runningfor a while.
But there is a mine, a coal minein East Texas, about an hour or
so east of Waco by the bigenergy company NRG that operated
for years and years, but in the80s it was shut down in lieu of

other sources of energy andother places to mine where you
can do it more efficiently andthere are more, I guess,
efficient types of coal, andsince then there have been
reclamation efforts going on inthis site and this is a very
large mine 35,000 acres of thisformer mine and over time

they've been working to fill inthe holes from the mine and
bring in clean soil and sincethe 70s.
As these mining sites are beingreclaimed, the companies that
are in charge the companies thatwere mining the site are in
charge of hoping to doecological restoration on the
site after the mines are closeddown, and they're required to
plant native grasses and nativeplants and match the ecosystem

and the plant communities asclosely as possible to the ones
that would be there already tosurrounding areas.
But something that's reallycool that's happening on this
reclaimed mine site.
Again, this is 35,000 acrestotal, which that's, by the way,
a lot of acres.
That's a lot of land, and onone acre of these 35,000 acres,

since the energy dewy prairiegarden I misspoke earlier, the
mine was actually finally shutdown completely and mining
operations stopped in 2016, eventhough it had been sort of
slowing down since the 80s andreclamation efforts started in
the 80s.
But this prairie garden is afood production effort that's

intended to serve the small town, jewett, that is right next to
the mine, in fact, part of themine stretches into part of the
town and I don't know if you'veever spent much time in small
town America, especially insmall town Texas, but these are
actually sort of vast fooddeserts where often there is not

a grocery store, that there'snot access or easy access to
fresh produce, and a lot oftimes if you drive through a lot
of small towns, they're driving30, 40, 50 minutes in some
cases to get to a grocery storethat has fresh produce and you
may think that, even thoughthese are agricultural
communities like they shouldhave that, but a lot of times
they don't.
And some of our largest fooddeserts, especially in parts of

Texas, are in rural communities,rural agricultural communities.
So as part of this effort, thisone acre garden was established
and is run on volunteers andalso by employees and things
like that to produce food thatwould go partially into this

town and since April 2022, whenthis farm began harvesting,
they've produced more than10,000 pounds of produce for six
separate food pantries and hasserved probably 2,000 people per
month in surrounding countiesand in Jewett.
And it's just such anincredible thing that this site

that was sort of a net negativefor the environment and, yes,
the generation of power isimportant.
We have to heat and cool andlight our homes and run industry
and all of that Like thosethings matter.
But as a whole, 35,000 acres ofwhat was once prairie and

forest if you've ever been ineast Texas there's both there's
prairie land and there's forestland is a net loss, right as
every tree matters today, as theamount of plants we have
available to sequester carbonand all of those things like
those things matter today andit's just such a cool and

hopeful thing that we can take.
We can take these things thatmaybe were causing problems,
that were in a lot of wayscausing problems, and a lot of
mining operations add toxicityto the soil and things like that
, and as that's been renewed andcleaned up, they've done

testing to make sure that theproduce is safe and they're
feeding people.
They're making sure that we'retaking something that maybe was
again a detriment to theenvironment and turned it into
something beautiful and havereclaimed the natural landscape
but have also found ways to feedhungry people, to address food

insecurity, and I just thinkthat's such a cool example of
the things we can accomplishwhen, one, we're creative and,
two, when we work together asindividuals and industry and
people who are advocating forthe climate to do a better job,
and so that gives me hope.
It gives me hope that not justthis, but there are community

garden and grassroots food webefforts happening all over the
country and we're finding moreways to take care of folks and
we're finding more ways to feedpeople that are hungry, to
address those types ofinsecurities, that we're adding
more equity and building moreequity into our society.
That gives me hope.

Another article I read that Ithink was very cool and very
interesting, and this is againsort of preliminary research and
But there's a study done atTrinity College in Dublin that
shows that plants may be able toabsorb more carbon dioxide from
human activities thanpreviously expected.
So let's talk real brieflyabout photosynthesis.

My students just took a test onphotosynthesis and they did
very well, which also gives mehope.
I'm going to talk aboutacademics and my students here
in a minute, but the basics areplants use water from the ground
, power from the sun and carbondioxide from the atmosphere to
produce sugar.
That sugar is stored in theplant, it goes to the

mitochondria to produce energyand ATP to grow the plant.
Blah, blah, blah.
So essentially, plants areturning carbon dioxide and
sunlight into everything elseeverything else the food that we
eat, the clothes that we wear.
There are big, massive enginesthat process sunlight into
everything else, which is supercool.
But it was thought that,combined with climate change,

their capacity to scrub carbondioxide out of the atmosphere
may be limited.
So on one hand, the CO2concentrations in the atmosphere
increase to a certain point,plants actually kind of like
Right, they actually do prettywell on that.
There's more carbon dioxideavailable, the sunlight is
plentiful, and so they're ableto photosynthesize at a higher

rate and they actually sequestera lot of carbon.
But there's a lot of researchand a lot of modeling that shows
that there's an inflectionpoint.
Once we hit certain temperaturethresholds, once droughts
become worse, when solarintensity gets higher, all of
these different things can bereduced.
So a lot of the modeling thatgoes into the capacity of plants

to deal with climate change andclimate issues shows that in
the next 100 years or so we'regoing to start to see
diminishing returns astemperatures increase for our
plants' ability to sequestercarbon.
So even though we're plantingmore trees, we're reclaiming
prairies, we're also going to beable to restore the climate as
it gets hotter, it can become aproblem, but new models have

taken into account some of thedifferent complexities in the
way that plants grow, in the waythat they pull in and process
and trap carbon, in the way theyphotosynthesize.
Because, it turns out, we'realways learning new things.
And plants are so calm, they'reso calm, they're so calm,
they're so calm, they're so calm, they're so calm, they're so

calm, they're so calm, they'reso calm, they're so calm,
they're so calm, they're so calm, they're so calm, they're so
calm, they're so calm.
So the two elements that we'retalking about today, one is
these learning new things.
And plants are so complex andtheir systems are so incredibly
powerful in a lot of ways thatit actually looks like they may

be able to fix carbon andsequester carbon and
photosynthesize at higher ratesthan production and industry in
Like we do need to take thosesteps absolutely to reduce the
amount of CO2 and othercarbon-based gases that we're
putting into the atmosphere.
However, it looks like plantsare still kind of doing the

thing right and as we moveforward through the 21st century
, we're gonna find more and moreout about them, and it turns
out that maybe some of themodels we're seeing now are a
little more hopeful and a littlemore optimistic, not that we
can stop making efforts, notthat we can stop progressing,
but that maybe we have a littlemore time, that the planet is

fighting for itself and fightingfor us as we go, and that we
have the ability and the timeand the technology and the hope
to figure out these problems.
Because, again, as Catherinesaid, it's because of hope that
we move forward.
It's because we are able to see, oh, I can make a difference,

oh, this can be better, that wecontinue to try.
That's a cool thing for me tothink about that, even though
things may be bad and we maystruggle with a lot of the stuff
going on in the world, which Iknow I do, and it's hard
sometimes for me to watch thenews and hear about everything

that's going on and think aboutlike is what I do?
Important are the things I'mteaching students about plants
and about the environment andthe climate.
Like doesn't even matter.
Are we going to even have thisto deal with in 50 years?
Are we still going to havesomething out there and reading

stories like these?
That we're taking old miningsites and turning them into food
That we're still learning aboutour environment and nature and
plants and their capacity tofight some of these changes on
the planet Like that gives me somuch hope.
The other thing that has broughtme so much hope this semester
is my students, and teaching iscomplicated Whether you're

teaching at the first gradelevel, kindergarten up through
graduate school.
We see so much from ourstudents and they work hard and
they do all these things, butthey're struggling with things
But I think this semester hasbeen maybe the most engaged
class I've had.
They answer questions, theytalk to me.
We get some back and forth.

When I see them outside ofclass, they're super cool about
saying hi and things like that,which is fun for me.
I like that.
If you see me at the grocerystore, say hi.
If you see me at the coffeeshop, say hi.
If you see me at the gym whichprobably is not going to happen
just let me struggle, just letme suffer in peace, just leave

me alone, okay.
But grocery store, coffee shop,whatever, yeah, come, say hi,
let's hang out, let's talk.
But I've seen so much like Idon't know inquisitiveness and
enthusiasm and just a capacityto work and try and learn in my
students this semester that it'sreally been good for me as an

It's really done a lot for meand my wife will tell you, and
probably anyone that's beenaround me, that I'm like I've
been super worn out the past fewmonths and I still am to a
certain extent.
But I find that like going toclass is super exciting because
I know that at least some of thestudents in my class are really

like passionate and they reallycare about the environment,
they really care about learningabout the material and
photosynthesis y'all is not themost exciting thing.
Like I think it's cool and it'sexciting to learn how it works,
but you know we get into thebiochemistry of it, like for the
most part, like there's a lotof glazed over faces looking at
me and let's not get it.

I do.
But the fact that they're stilllike coming to class and asking
good questions and conversingand you know we have a project
coming up where they do sciencecommunication and they can
record a podcast or make a video, and we talked about it
yesterday in class and afterclass several students came up
like, oh, I had this idea.
I think this would be cool todo, where I'd like to go about

it in this way and do all thesethings Like that's so cool for
me to hear here, and so I don'tknow if any of my students
listened to this current,present, past, whatever, but I
want y'all to know that you'rean inspiration to me, like even
when you're frustrating and I'msure I frustrate you right back

Like the fact that you arededicated to learning, the fact
that you're in college and goingabout like improving your
education and your knowledge,and that you're trying to do
better for yourself and dosomething good for yourself in
your life, but also to maybemake the world a little bit

better in the process, like itmeans a lot.
It means a lot to me, and evenon days where maybe it doesn't
mean a lot to you, I hope youknow that at least I appreciate
it, and I know a lot of yourother professors do as well.
So thanks for giving me hope.
I really do appreciate that alot.
And there's so many otherthings.

Lately my son, bradley, hasbeen bringing home, like nature,
books from school.
So every Thursday I think theyget to check out a book from the
library and bring it home, andhe's been bringing home to
actually every week, and so manyof them have been about plants,
like plant books about seedsand how they grow, or animal
books, and they're not just likenecessarily like stories

Sometimes they're story books orfunny story books or whatever
but like he checks out a lot ofnonfiction and as an educator
and as a children's author,y'all that is so cool to me,
that's so cool.
So thanks to Bradley, too, forgiving me hope.
And if you are also a longtimelistener of Plainthropology,

you've heard his little voiceseveral times over the years.
I think he was three years old,about to turn four, the first
He was on the podcast, likeepisode five or something in the
way back when it's a fun one,you should go back and listen to
He's been on a couple times, sothis summer I'm going to try to
talk him into doing that again.
He's like eight now and so hislittle voice is less little.
And he's got other things likereturning to the minds.

He plays a lot of Minecraft.
Children yearn for the mines.
But I hope he'll come talk tome again, because I would look
for you to hear from him too.
Maybe he'll give you some hopeas well.
He, by the way and this hasnothing to do with the rest of
the episode is me.
I Hope the good parts of me.
But you know he's funny.

He's funny but like supersarcastic, and I hear things
come out of his mouth and I'mlike, oh yeah, I earned that one
, like like I'm paying forsomething in my past when he
says some stuff to me sometimes.
But anyway, so stay tuned,maybe the summer will have an
episode with Bradley, but y'all,I know I rambled a little bit.
This is very much like stream ofconsciousness for me, because I

I just want you to know, I justwant you to know that there are
people out there fighting forall of us, that there are
Stories like the ones we talkedabout today and thousands more
of people who are still doinggood and Still trying hard and

still fighting the fight for youand for me and for the planet
and for everything else.
And I think that some daysmaybe we should turn off the,
the news cycle and the Talkingheads that are talking about how
bad things are, and not todiscount that things are rough
right now because they are, butlook for things that are

positive, look for things thatare good.
Find ways to hope in your life,because, y'all, that's what we
We need more hopeful peoplethat are willing to turn their
hope into action, and I hopethat to you.
I think it is so many of you.
But y'all, that's all I havefor today.
Again, it's a short one.
I've got three or four greatinterviews coming up soon, but I

just wanted to tell you thatyou mean a lot to me and that
the conversations I get to havewith y'all and the back and
forth like that gives me hope toand it Brings me so much joy.
So thanks for listening, thanksfor being a part of
Planthropology and everything wedo here.
Thanks for sharing it with yourfriends.
If you have the time, tellsomeone about Planthropology who

you think may like hearingstories about plants and nature
and all those things.
Leave a rating and review onpod chaser, apple podcast or
Spotify or wherever you can.
But, more importantly, justtell a friend about
planthropology and if you havecomments or feedback, hit me up
on social media.
I am either the plant prof orplanthropology or planthropology
pod pretty much everywhere aFacebook, instagram, tiktok,

twitter or whatever Twitter isnow and you can send me an email
at planthropology pod, agmailcom.
You can find all thingsplanthropology at planthropology
pod cast calm, pick up somemerch or Just see a backlog of
all the episodes.
You can find this on yourfavorite podcast player.
I hope you'll hit subscribe.

Thanks again to the tech techdepartment of plant and soil
science and the Davis Collegefor letting me do this.
Thanks to the pod fix network.
Thanks to the wonderful andaward-winning composer, nick
scout, for the song if you wantto love me, babe, which is the
new theme music ofplanthropology, which you're
about to hear again in a second.
I love you, folks.
Thanks for being a part of this.

Keep being kind to one another.
If you have not to date beenkind to one another, maybe give
that a shot.
It's a good way to be.
Keep being a very cool plant,people, and I will talk to you
next time.
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