More CO2 needed 5

 From Princeton Professor of Physics William Happer’s statement to the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on February 25, 2009:

I keep hearing about the "pollutant CO2," or about "poisoning the atmosphere" with CO2, or about minimizing our "carbon footprint." This brings to mind another Orwellian pronouncement that is worth pondering: "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." CO2 is not a pollutant and it is not a poison and we should not corrupt the English language by depriving "pollutant" and "poison" of their original meaning. Our exhaled breath contains about 4% CO2. That is 40,000 parts per million, or about 100 times the current atmospheric concentration. CO2 is absolutely essential for life on earth. Commercial greenhouse operators often use CO2 as a fertilizer to improve the health and growth rate of their plants. Plants, and our own primate ancestors evolved when the levels of atmospheric CO2 were about 1000 ppm, a level that we will probably not reach by burning fossil fuels, and far above our current level of about 380 ppm. We try to keep CO2 levels in our US Navy submarines no higher than 8,000 parts per million, levels about 20 time current atmospheric levels. Few adverse effects are observed at even higher levels.

We are all aware that "the green revolution" has increased crop yields around the world. Part of this wonderful development is due to improved crop varieties, better use of mineral fertilizers, herbicides, etc. But no small part of the yield improvement has come from increased atmospheric levels of CO2. Plants photosynthesize more carbohydrates when they have more CO2. Plants are also more drought-tolerant with more CO2, because they need not "inhale" as much air to get the CO2 needed for photosynthesis. At the same time, the plants need not "exhale" as much water vapor when they are using air enriched in CO2. Plants decrease the number of stomata or air pores on their leaf surfaces in response to increasing atmospheric levels of CO2. They are adapted to changing CO2 levels and they prefer higher levels than those we have at present. If we really were to decrease our current level of CO2 of around 400 ppm to the 270 ppm that prevailed a few hundred years ago, we would lose some of the benefits of the green revolution. Crop yields will continue to increase as CO2 levels go up, since we are far from the optimum levels for plant growth. Commercial greenhouse operators are advised to add enough CO2 to maintain about 1000 ppm around their plants.

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Thursday, March 5, 2009

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This post has 5 comments.

  • Jillian Becker

    anonymous, please would you explain why the acidification and warming of the oceans is a bad thing? And how the result may be the ‘wiping out’ of populations? And by ‘populations’ do you mean people, or sea species?

  • anonymous

    Sure everything the prof. said was correct but he forgot to mention how when CO2 gets mixed with water it forms carbonic acid. Our oceans are becoming both more acidified and warmer. Not that I would expect him to know, he is not a chemist, but these changes in the past occurred over millions of years. Not two hundred. Now they have the danger of wiping out populations because of how fast they are happening.

    Ergo we have a problem.

  • Madeleine Westrop in Great Britain

    Clearly, to feed the growing population of the world we need more CO2 and less easy credit. Instead of fighting the rise of CO2, we need to fight the suicidal quantative easing/money printing. Here in England they have started to print money because they won’t be able to sell all the Government bonds they issue to fund the bail-outs. Its crazy economists that will starve us all. Eco-disaster is real and its nothing to do with CO2!

  • roger in florida

    Sworded: Perhaps you should read the article, atmospheric CO2 was higher in the past when humans were developing than it is now. What makes you believe that a tripling of atmospheric CO2 (which is not going to happen) would cause the extinction of the human race?

  • sworded

    Yes, let’s triple atmospheric CO2. We can admire the beautiful fauna as humans become extinct.