Climate Surprise: Why More CO2 is Good for the Earth

By William M Briggs Published on March 31, 2016

I had the good fortune to attend a talk by conservative author Mark Steyn at the Princeton Club in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday, sponsored by Roger Kimball’s The New Criterion and co-sponsored by the newly formed CO2 Coalition, founded by Princeton physicist Will Happer. In the talk, Steyn warned that prostitution will increase because of global warming, and that global warming will also cause impotence in Italian men. This is a compounding tragedy because, of course, all those newly formed prostitutes won’t be able to find customers — at least, not in Italy.

It gets worse. Global warming is also responsible for Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental malady affecting the reasoning centers of the brain, causing its sufferers to run nervously in ever tighter circles as they demand the government do the impossible and stop the climate from changing.

PreTSD was discovered in the maiden science of the psychology of global warming. We can only surmise that it’s caused when people are confronted with the reality that the average annual global temperature has swung dramatically in past ages — long before humans developed a rage for burning fossils — but that of late those same averages have failed to do anything dramatic and, indeed, have failed to cooperate with global warming predictions, which have soared ever upwards (see page 2 of this report).

Not only are things not as bad as we thought, they are much, much better. And they’re improving. Crop output is up, the world is greener, storms are down in frequency and number, and on and on, despite the forecasts of doom foisted on the public by politicians and media.

But why are things better? Because of the beneficial effects of releasing carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. Craig Idso, a bona fide scientist who also spoke at the event, cataloged the good CO2 does. Plants grow not just a little better when CO2 is increased, but they are vastly improved.

They have greater mass, more roots, better leafs, they use water more efficiently and, the biggest surprise, they react to warmer temperatures more robustly. These entirely salutary effects are so well known (to scientists) that commercial greenhouses artificially boost CO2 to levels about three times higher than are found in the atmosphere.

In times past, atmospheric CO2 levels were up to 30 times higher — pause and reflect on the number — than they are now; and indeed we are now in a historic, almost dangerously low, period. Yet even though CO2 was then so much higher than mankind could ever hope now to achieve even if we burn every drop of oil that exists, there was no runaway global warming. Why should we expect it now?

Ross McKitrick asked the same question in his research. His work demonstrates how climate models — running under the assumption that CO2 is dangerous — do not match the reality of actual observations. This is the central point. If the models cannot predict reality — and they have not — then we do not know all the causes of climate change.

Tossing out models which made lousy predictions used to be the golden rule of science. No longer. There’s been too much money and too much politicization for too long for people to see straight. This was the theme of Richard Lindzen, the grandfather of dynamic climatology and a man to whom all but the most rabid activists listen seriously.

Lindzen pointed out that “consensus” climate physicists and skeptical climate physicists agree on much, such as that mankind has some effect on the atmosphere, and that the only question is how much. He too says the model-reality discrepancy proves that CO2 can’t be as important as the “consensus” has it.

While Lindzen makes some headway with actual scientists, hangers-on and politicians are another matter. These people do not understand the science, and don’t care to learn, but they surely believe in the “solution” to global warming — which is defined as greater government control over everything.

And in any case, shouldn’t we “do something,” just in case? After all, animals might suffer! Probably not, said Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace who has since come to see the light. Moore stressed that animals have much greater phenotypic plasticity than has been acknowledged. This means that animals can survive much better than previously thought, even when the environment around them changes dramatically. (Besides, the environment isn’t changing that much.)

Moore said that far from humans being a blight on the environment, “We are the salvation of life, because we reintroduced CO2 to the atmosphere that was taken out by oceanic” life that sucked it up. Without CO2, plants die. And without plants, we die.

Batting clean up was Tufts economist Bruce Everett, who showed that solar and wind cannot be replacements for fossil fuels. He acknowledged that some countries like Germany have splurged on these toys, but he said that Germany was like your neighbor who bought “a Prius to park in the driveway while they drive around in an SUV.” Germany can’t use solar and wind as much as they want because the two sources are unreliable. And expensive. Germans pay double what Americans do for energy.

If the climate situation is so bad, why all the fuss? Why do people make such a show of their environmental correctness? Why do politicians like our President and celebrities like Leo DiCaprio lecture us all and then hop in their private jets? Mark Steyn provided the answer at the Princeton Club Tuesday: “The great thing about professing to ‘Save the Planet’ is that it absolves you of the need to do anything.”

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  • Wayne Cook

    DUH! What is so hard to understand about this?????

  • wkb

    Excellent summary. When will tax payers and rate payers wake up from their lethargy and apathy. We have already wasted billions of dollars with trillions left to come.

  • mfricke

    Mark Steyn’s satire is hilarious. Hopefully the CO2 Coalition will have more meetings like this that many more can attend – great job!

  • ColonelNeville

    One can dismantle Global Warming claims in ten words. If a theory predicts the opposite of reality its junk.

  • Thomas Black

    The climate alarmists used to describe CO2 emissions as having a greenhouse effect. But they stopped because it drew attention to a benefit from higher levels of atmospheric CO2, better crop growth. A major component of plants is carbon. Photosynthesis uses CO2 to grow plants.

    Commercial greenhouse operators elevate the CO2 level to several times the level outside that the climate alarmists complain about. Even when the price of natural gas and propane fuel was much higher than now, greenhouse operators considered it a worthwhile expense.

    • VancouverDoug42

      It’s not quite that simple – CO2 just being good for plants – and both this article and Patrick Moore’s CO2-Is-Good mantra seem to forget or consciously ignore some pretty simple chemistry and biology.

      It’s been known since the 19th century that CO2 is a heat trapping catalytic gas. Heat trapping since it is made of two oxygen atoms doubly bonded to a single carbon atom. Double bonds are like thick heavy springs. It takes a lot of energy to stretch them and they can hold a lot of energy once stretched. CO2 absorbs and traps solar radiation and acts like a thick blanket on planet Earth. Pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere while the planet warms is like putting a winter blanket onto your bed on the hottest night in the summer.

      Second – CO2 is a catalytic gas meaning, just like any other catalyst, a small increase can lead to large changes. We’re now at 405 parts per million from a pre-industrial level of 280 or lower. This is a 45% increase in a catalytic gas, that traps heat, in over just 2 centuries.

      Third there is also the rate of change to consider. Ecosystems are able to adapt to temperature and CO2 changes that occur over the time frame of ice ages. The last ice age saw a 5’C change over the course of 100,000 years. 50,000 years of cooler by 5’C followed by 50,000 years of warming. That’s a rate of change of 1’C per 10,000 years. Starting with the industrial revolution, and the burning of fossil fuels, we’ve accomplished a 1’C temperature change in just 200 years. That’s a game-over rate of change for most terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems including us.

      To see where we might be heading spend half an hour Googling “Permian Triassic boundary”. This was a period, 250 million years ago, that also experienced by a rapid rise in CO2 levels. It is an event that is “colloquially known as the Great Dying, the End Permian or the Great Permian Extinction.”

      That said – Yes – CO2 does promote plant growth and record harvests in Canada and Russia last year prove that. However as the north warms (it’s up 8’C already) what were growth areas, southern Canada for example, will become too hot and dry to grow crops. Further north will not take up the slack either since the soil bacteria, in particular those that fix nitrogen for plants, can’t adapt quickly enough. The soil will be sterile in other words.

      • iwylie

        RE: Vancouverdoug32:

        Thank-you for your civil and reasoned response. I hope that you won’t mind if I try to refute your arguments politely. It believe it is important to remain reasonable in the face of the avalanche of emotionalism and even outright hatred that is evident in society today.

        I am a Chemist (M.Sc) with a lot of time and effort invested to understand these issues. So to your first point:

        1) “CO2 is a heat trapping catalytic gas”

        CO2 is almost the opposite of a “catalytic gas”. It Is the most oxidized form of the carbon atom that is found in nature. One could make an argument that the carbonate ion is more oxidized than carbon dioxide, but since the carbonate ion is the result of the simple reaction between dissolved CO2 and a water molecule and its subsequent equilibrium into carbonic acid (H2CO3), the biocarbonate ion (HCO3-) and the Carbonate ion (CO32-), that is probably irrelevant. The carbon atom’s electrons are “mostly” stolen by the 4 bonds with oxygen (2 to each oxygen) and the bond is therefore reasonably polar.

        2) CO2’s effect is exponential because it is a “catalyst”

        See above. CO2 is a not a catalyst. It is known as a “greenhouse gas” (similar to water but much less effective) since it absorbs infrared radiation at about 15 um in wavelength. The end result effect of that absorption is MUCH debated in the atmosphere but the immediate effect is the simple but incomplete absorption of IR at that wavelength. Fortunately, the radiative absorption of IR is very very well known (the atmospheric implications are a little harder to be certain of). Those direct radiative effects follow the “Beer-Lambert” Law which has a functional dependence OPPOSITE to exponential. It a logarithmic effect. That means that a TEN FOLD increase in concentration will ONLY cause a TWO fold increase in absorption. That is UNLESS the absorption lines are “saturated”. It is arguable whether or not that is the case at the pressure in the upper atmosphere. However, if the absorption line is saturated, the effect is EVEN LESS than logarithmic. That means that the increase from 280 ppm to 405 ppm (if it really was that much) has had a VERY minor impact on the absorption of IR radiation from the surface of the earth. It is hard to imagine a logarithmic (or lesser) absorption being a dramatic effect. There is certainly very very little evidence of such a dramatic effect in the geological record. Other effects like the sun and the positions of the continents (and their effect on ocean currents) and the orbital parameters of the earth appear to have a much greater effect.

        3) The effect of CO2’s “greenhouse absorption” on temperatures

        This is still hotly debated (NOT settled science). HOWEVER, what is known, is that since the IR absorption of CO2 will tend to manifest itself mostly when the water vapor component of the greenhouse effect is less present, i.e. when it is dry. The CO2 greenhouse effect will therefore tend to affect WINTER temperatures at night (when H2O is less present). So, we are talking about a small increase in winter night time temperatures, particularly at the extreme arctic and antarctic latitudes. So, since Antarctica is the driest place on earth, we should see the effect of CO2 there first. The best temperature record we have of the antarctic (RSS and UAH) of the last 35 years is that the temperature there is DROPPING (slightly), there is precious little evidence that the real (slight) temperature increases of the last 35 years are in fact driven by CO2 as opposed to natural variation.

        4) Temperature changes recently are extreme

        This is the opposite of the facts evident in any medium to long term view of temperature proxies and even direct temperature records of the last 100-200 years. A reasonable analysis of the temperature variation from the Greenland ice core measurements shows that the AVERAGE temperature variation for the last 10,000 years is about 2 C per century (either up or down). SO, since the temperature increase in the last 100 years is definitely less than 2C, it is not at all clear that there is ANY evidence for a human (CO2) caused greenhouse effect on temperatures. It is likely that the increase in CO2 due to human could only reasonable have effected temperatures since about 1950 (post war industrial boom). Before 1950, CO2 emission were less than 10% of current emissions and were really far below the natural CO2 emissions. The temperature increase from 1900 to 1940 was about 0.3-0.4C and the temperatue increase from 1975-1995 was about the same. If natural variations of 2C in a century are the average, why should we be certain that a “human-caused” variation of 0.3-0.4C are not in fact a part of natural variation. To put it another way, since it is very likely that there is SOME effect of the increase of CO2 on temperature, but is CLEAR that this effect is less than the average variation in temperature due to natural cuases (whatever those are). The human caused CO2 temperature increase has not shown itself above the natural variability.
        Futhermore, the temperature increase from 1996 to present (using balloon and satellite measurements insteaad of the highly adjusted surface measurements), is either zero or close to zero. Also, since the CO2 concentration has CONTINUED to increase from 1995-96 to the present AND there is little or no increase in global temperatures, again there is further evidence that human caused CO2 concentration increases are causing ANY observable increase in temperature.

        5) Conclusion

        There is substantial evidence in improvements in plant productivity, particularly in arid areas. Recent satellite data of the last 20 years shows a net increase of 8-10% OVERALL in chlorophyl concentration on the surface of the earth. MOST of that is in the most arid areas in the Sahara Desert, the Gobi Desert and the American Southwest. This has been accompanied by a 10-15% increase in crop productivity and a similar primary productivity increase in forest lands over the same period. It is now obvious that this is directly caused by the beneficial effects of CO2 enrichment on plant growth, which as stated in the article have been well known in greenhouses for at least 100 years.

        Little or no evidence of ANY catastrophic effects of a CO2 increase and ABUNDANT evidence of its benefits. Sounds like a GREAT thing to me!!

        I hope that you find this helpful,

        Iwylie in Vancouver

        • VancouverDoug42

          Thank you as well for your wonderful, civil and fact filled reply to my post iwylie. It’s very rare to read let alone receive something so useful and thought provoking on the Internet in particular over such, for some (me), an anxiety ridden topic as climate change.

          I obviously need to do some more research as well as craft an equally helpful, factual and honest reply and will do that over the next week or so.

          One thing I would like to mention though is that my reference to CO2 as a catalytic gas was from a macro perspective rather than a micro-catalytic one. I’ve an M.Sc. in biochemistry that was focused specifically on enzyme kinetics and as such I view CO2 as an enabler or accelerant (aka catalyst) of fundamental climate chemistry pathways. While a CO2 concentration of 405 parts per million may seem to be small nature is very good at doing big things with the very small.

  • Terry

    BBC radio (in Britain) was today desperately trying to report on the new facts about CO 2 being great for nature and for us whilst at the same time maintaining its ‘climate change’ conformism. Its climate conformism correspondent tied himself in knots. There’s been no further coverage this evening. That tells us everything. The BBC has decided to ignore the story instead of covering it any further.

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