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Analysis: Rising CO2 levels boost agricultural productivity, human health

Rising CO2 levels boost agricultural productivity, human health

By Bonner Cohen, Ph.D.

A constant refrain of climate alarmists and “clean-energy” business eager to cash in on the scare is that the use of fossil fuels to create energy is endangering the climate by overloading the atmosphere with manmade greenhouse gases. This, we are told, is responsible for rising sea levels, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, extinction of species, spread of infectious diseases – the list goes on. Over time, greenhouse gases have been rebranded as “carbon pollution,” just as global warming now bears the label “climate change.” Of all the noxious substances we are said to be putting into the air, none is viler that carbon dioxide, CO2. In the name of reining in this alleged killer, we subsidize intermittent wind and solar power and provide tax credits to the mostly well-heeled buyers of electric vehicles. We blanket the countryside and seacoast with giant, bird-and-bat-killing wind turbines and deface rural areas with massive solar arrays, many of which produce electricity exclusively for Silicon Valley data centers. Both pollute their surroundings when their back-up batteries — laden with the likes of lithium, cobalt, graphite, and nickel — die and have to be disposed of or recycled. Not to worry, though. We’re clamping down on CO2! But what if manmade CO2 isn’t the villain deep-thinking elites say it is? What if rising levels of atmospheric CO2 are instead fighting the scourge of malnutrition in the world’s poorest regions? A new White Paper, “What Rising CO2 Means for Global Food Security,” published by the CO2 Coalition points out that global food security is one of the most pressing problems facing the planet’s growing population. “A Powerful Plant Food” “Continuing advances in agricultural productivity and expertise will certainly increase food production in many regions, but the required doubling of food production by 2100 as diets improve with rising income will be a difficult task,” it says. “Fortunately, carbon dioxide (CO2), a non-polluting gas that is created when fossil fuels are converted into energy, has proved to be a powerful plant food.” The study’s lead researcher is Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change and a member of the CO2 Coalition. Dr. Idso has advanced degrees in both agronomy and climatology and is one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars on the effect of carbon dioxide on agriculture. ”Just as it does in commercial greenhouses every day, the CO2 that has been added to the atmosphere has already ‘greened’ the planet,” the study continues. “Since 1900, crop production has increased on the order of 15 to 30 percent.” The White Paper’s detailed review of the latest field research shows that “this effect will only improve as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise from 4 percent of one percent of the earth’s atmosphere to, perhaps. 6 percent of one percent in 50 years. In addition to boosting yields per unit of land area, CO2 also boosts yields per unit of fertilizer and applied and water used.” Preventing Widespread Starvation and Premature Death “In regions where food shortages persist, these enhancements by industrial CO2 will mean the difference between food security and food insecurity. They will aid in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of a state of hunger and malnutrition, preventing widespread starvation and premature death,” the White Paper points out. “Society did not intend to boost plant production when it started to use fossil fuels to power its drive to the wealth that has dramatically improved both personal health and the environment,” the study adds. The White Paper acknowledges that the clear benefits to humanity of industrial CO2 as a byproduct of the use of fossil fuels must be weighed against predictions, generated by computer models, of CO2-driven warming leading to climate catastrophes. Citing research from climatologist Judith Curry and environmental studies scholar Roger Pielke Jr., the study notes that “the modest one-degree Celsius rise in average temperatures since 1900 due to what all models acknowledge is a mixture of natural and industrial causes, has had a negligible effect to date on variables such as the rate of the rise of sea levels and the frequency of droughts and hurricanes.” Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from about 250 parts per million (ppm) around 1750 (roughly the end of the Little Ice Age) to 400 ppm today. In the earth’s geologic past, CO2 levels were often much higher than they are now, without any runaway greenhouse effect. We are fortunate to be living in an interglacial period – meaning we’re living between the last Ice Age and the next one – and higher levels of CO2 are to be expected and, when it comes to agricultural productivity, to be welcomed. Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT. This article appeared on the CFACT website at

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