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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