More Carbon Dioxide, Please
Raising a scientific question.


There seems to be an unwritten assumption among environmentalists — and among the media — that any influence humans have on nature is, by definition, bad. I even see it in scientific papers written by climate researchers. For instance, if we can measure some minute amount of a trace gas in the atmosphere at the South Pole, well removed from its human source, we are astonished at the far-reaching effects of mankind’s “pollution.”

But if nature was left undisturbed, would it be any happier and more peaceful? Would the carnivores stop eating those poor, defenseless herbivores, as well as each other? Would fish and other kinds of sea life stop infringing on the rights of others by feasting on them? Would there be no more droughts, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, tornadoes, or glaciers flowing toward the sea?

In the case of global warming, the alleged culprit — carbon dioxide — just happens to be necessary for life on Earth. How can Al Gore say with a straight face that we are treating the atmosphere like an “open sewer” by dumping carbon dioxide into it? Would he say the same thing if we were dumping more oxygen into the atmosphere? Or more nitrogen?

As a climate researcher, I am increasingly convinced that most of our recent global warming has been natural, not manmade. If true, this would mean that global temperatures can be expected to peak in the coming years (if they haven’t already), and global cooling will eventually ensue.

Just for the sake of argument, let us assume that manmade global warming really is a false alarm. In that case, we would still need to ask: What are the other negative effects of pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere?

Well, plant physiologists have known for a long time that most vegetation loves more carbon dioxide. It grows faster, is more drought-tolerant, and is more efficient in its water use. While the pre-industrial CO2 concentration of the atmosphere was only about 280 parts per million (ppm) by volume, and now it is around 380 ppm, some greenhouses pump it all the way up to around 1,000 ppm. How can environmentalists claim that helping vegetation to grow is a bad thing?

The bigger concern has been the possible effect of the extra CO2 on the world’s oceans, because more CO2 lowers the pH of seawater. While it is claimed that this makes the water more acidic, this is misleading. Since seawater has a pH around 8.1, it will take an awful lot of CO2 it to even make the water neutral (pH=7), let alone acidic (pH less than 7).

Still, the main worry has been that the extra CO2 could hurt the growth of plankton, which represents the start of the oceanic food chain. But recent research (published on April 18 in Science Express) has now shown, contrary to expectations, that one of the most common forms of plankton actually grows faster and bigger when more CO2 is pumped into the water. Like vegetation on land, it loves the extra CO2, too!

It is quite possible that the biosphere (vegetation, sea life, etc.) has been starved for atmospheric CO2. Before humans started burning fossil fuels, vegetation and ocean plankton had been gobbling up as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as they could, but it was like a vacuum cleaner trying to suck through a stopped-up hose.

Now, no matter how much CO2 we pump into the atmosphere each year, the biosphere takes out an average of 50 percent of that extra amount. Even after we triple the amount of CO2 we produce, nature still takes out 50 percent of the extra amount.


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