Of moles and whacking: CO2 is “Life”, plant food, not a pollutant, etc. – Part II

This is a follow up to my post debunking the “CO2 is life” talking point. Whereas the general flaw in logic was previously examined and the broad assertion that “more CO2 is good” was exploded, here the specific question- whether anthropogenic CO2 emissions will be a boon to the biosphere- is weighed.

Image courtesy of flickr user A guy with A camera used under Creative Commons

Are Business As Usual CO2 emissions good for “Life”? The short answer is an emphatic no. While there will be some initial benefits to certain crops in certain areas due to increased levels of CO2 and warmer temperatures, even these isolated benefits are negated beyond a doubling of CO2 and 3C of warming. The claim that increasing CO2 will be a benefit to the biosphere ignores three very obvious problems- the climatic change that accompanies such an increase; the lack of science convincingly linking increased CO2 to tangible net benefits for crops in the real world; the devastating impact ocean acidification will have on marine life and ecosystems.

Climate change:

The global increase in temperatures and resulting alteration of climatic norms under an unchecked emissions scenario are discussed at length elsewhere. Those that make the case that CO2 will be good for the planet as a rule fundamentally reject the scientific basis of anthropogenic driven warming. As such, discussing the alteration of climate and its effect on the biosphere becomes counterproductive when taking on the claim that CO2 is “plant food”. Therefore I will ignore this issue and focus instead on CO2 effects on crops and ocean acidification. The relevant arguments can be found in the IPCC AR4 and CCSP reports linked to below for those interested.

Impact on crops:

The simple “more CO2 means better crops” line of reasoning that is often expressed as “CO2 is plant food” ignores the evidence that CO2 may not provide net benefits to crop production. The IPCC AR4 and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program reports show that on the balance, increased CO2 will negatively impact crop production while boosting undesired plant growth among weeds and pests. Even a cursory glance at the recent literature demonstrates that the “more CO2 is good for crops” axiom is false:

  • Photosynthesis, productivity and yield of maize are not affected by open-air elevation of CO2 concentration in the absence of drought (Leakey et al. 2005)
  • Food for Thought: Lower-Than-Expected Crop Yield Stimulation with Rising CO2 Concentrations (Long et al. 2006)
  • Biomass and toxicity responses of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) to elevated atmospheric CO2 (Mohan et al. 2006)
  • Crop Models, CO2, and Climate Change (Ewert et al. 2007)
  • Crop Models, CO2, and Climate Change – Response (Long et al. 2007)
  • Anthropogenic increase in carbon dioxide compromises plant defense against invasive insects (Zavala et al. 2008)

Ocean acidification:

This alone renders the “CO2=life” argument moot. Ocean acidification is pushing an already stressed group of ecosystems to their breaking points. Unchecked emissions will alter the pH balance of the oceans by an amount and speed unknown for a million years or more. The effect this would have on oceanic ecosystems is almost unimaginable:

5 responses to “Of moles and whacking: CO2 is “Life”, plant food, not a pollutant, etc. – Part II

  1. You have been in the orchard picking cherries.

    Message I found in a bottle…
    The report on my imminent death is premature. I have been sloshing around in the basins on the crust for more than four billion years. I now cover nearly 71 per cent of the planet. Since the last ice age I have lifted myself out of the basin by 120 metres and scared the tribes of Noah to the higher ground. During deep time, I became the universal solvent for the volcanoes and the clouds. I have taken up as much salt as required by local circumstances and sometimes give it back in hot shallows and desert areas of my world. I have given man the salt in his blood. Your CO2 output is infinitesimally small. I have absorbed as much gas as I need to maintain balance with the organic world within me and on land. The exchange is so peaceful that science calls it equilibrium. I can absorb more CO2, if the plants do not need it, and it does not give me acid imbalance. My pH will remain basic no matter what you say. The variations you measure have come and gone many uncountable times on the planet and your baseline is too small to know the truth. What you do not get is that warming of the oceans releases CO2 and other gasses from my water, while cooling my water allows me to take up CO2 in vast amounts to nestle with the other molecules in my coldest most remote realms. I can absorb all that man can produce because your impact is feeble compared to my capacity.
    Please watch me with humility for you cannot change me. I am the ongoing sink for the planet, and I am huge and my heat content is beyond your estimation. Measure me here and there with your microscopes but know that I will never be that way in that place again. Open your mind to the infinite cycles of chemistry and physics and kneel on my beach. You can only hurt me by not respecting my infinite ability to change chemistry and temperature in all the corners of the seas. My CO2 feeds your plants and your plants provide all the oxygen you breathe. Your base line is infinitesimally small yet your mouth is wide open. Please stop sending me your plastic bottles.
    Poseidon

  2. So to summarize:

    “My delusions regarding my understanding of the subject trump science. I also fancy myself a literary talent.”

    You’re mistaken in both cases, I’m afraid. Also, your crayon got a little worn down by the end so it’s difficult to make out a signature. It looks like “Poseidon”, which would make a perverse kind of sense as your screed has a lot more in common with myth than reality.

  3. Food for thought as well as plants.
    Geologic low point for co2 from 000’s ppm through ice ages down to the negligible amount we have today.
    18 years = 6+% increase in biomass, much in the Amazon where more trees are needed. Trees especially benefit from co2. Trees calm the climate and draw in moist air from the oceans.
    Co2 has just about blown its whistle, with around .5 deg C more is all it has. The fantasy positive feedback much beloved by alarmists turns out to be negative. More vapour forms low clouds, not high as assumed by eco worrier modellers. Noctilucent clouds appear to be on the increase, Hansen’s spaghetti that was supposed to bracket the temp variation is still wide of the mark, his lambda for co2 is too. Co2 still rising (appears to be hiccuping a little in Hawaii though) while temp is still on a downer.
    Just why do farmers pump co2 into crops do you think?
    Hansen latest rant to congress is more like a child’s tantrum when it can’t get it’s own way.
    Seems like the US public is more savvy than eco worriers give credit, a majority are less concerned by warming than water pollution. No thanks to misinformers like certain editors of wiki. Perhaps the gravy train is running out of steam?

  4. Food for thought as well as plants.

    Thin gruel.

    Geologic low point for co2 from 000’s ppm through ice ages down to the negligible amount we have today.

    I’m not sure what you’re after here. The fluctuations of GHGs including CO2 are well known. Changes on the order of what we’re looking at are correlated with significant temperature changes. See Lüthi et al. 2008. That there have been even greater concentrations in the past does nothing to contradict this.

    18 years = 6+% increase in biomass, much in the Amazon where more trees are needed.

    I’m sure a recent, small increase in Amazonian biomass has nothing to do with the observed reduction of burning due to policy change. See Koren et al. 2007.

    Trees especially benefit from co2.

    Your Amazonian trees don’t appear to be significantly (Nascimento et al. 2007).

    Co2 has just about blown its whistle, with around .5 deg C more is all it has. The fantasy positive feedback much beloved by alarmists turns out to be negative. More vapour forms low clouds, not high as assumed by eco worrier modellers. Noctilucent clouds appear to be on the increase, Hansen’s spaghetti that was supposed to bracket the temp variation is still wide of the mark, his lambda for co2 is too.

    Ah yes. The old “climate sensitivity is too high/there are no positive feedbacks” line. It never gets old for you guys, does it? It gets old for us really fast (here, here, here, etc.).

    Co2 still rising (appears to be hiccuping a little in Hawaii though)

    It’s a good thing we take global readings, to smooth out local variability.

    while temp is still on a downer.

    What a shocking bit of cooling!

    Hansen latest rant to congress is more like a child’s tantrum when it can’t get it’s own way.

    Dealing with those who refuse to acknowledge the evidence in front of them tends to be vexing.

    Seems like the US public is more savvy than eco worriers give credit, a majority are less concerned by warming than water pollution. No thanks to misinformers like certain editors of wiki. Perhaps the gravy train is running out of steam?

    It always comes back to a conspiracy theory, doesn’t it?

  5. ThingsBreak:
    Your arguments might make sense except for one major inconvienient truth:

    The geologic record shows that Increased Temperature causes higher CO2 levels and not vice versa.

    [An increase in one can and do lead to an increase in the other. Start here.]

    CO2 is harmless Plant Food. Period.

    [While I appreciate the traffic and comment, please do bother at least reading before you post. This is no better than spam. – TB]

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