What's So Bad About CO2?

Paris is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference this week where world leaders and other climate do-gooders gather to wring their hands about the impending end of the world. Pope Francis tells us, “The world is near suicide.” French President Hollande declared, “What is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life.” Even President Obama cautioned, “There is such a thing as being too late.” Wow! Sounds like Orson Welles’ Halloween broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

Not mentioned is the 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by the conference attendees, getting to and returning home from the conference. Talk about hot air. By contrast, the average passenger car emits just under 5 tons of CO2 each year. Why couldn’t they take advantage of Al Gore’s invention, the internet, and hold a virtual conference, without the huge carbon footprint?

What’s so terrible about CO2 anyway? CO2 is one of several greenhouse gasses. Water vapor however is the largest contributor to the Earth’s greenhouse effect. CO2 is also plant food. Remember high school biology and photosynthesis? Water, CO2, and sunlight combine to produce carbohydrate and oxygen. The carbohydrate being the plant food.

CO2 is a relatively small percentage of air, 0.035% to be exact, less than one half of one percent of the air around us. CO2 levels can vary significantly, from less than 400 parts per million outdoors to over 1000 inside a crowded room. Crews of submarines can handle CO2 levels of up to 8000 parts per million without adverse health effects.

Although a minor player in our atmosphere, CO2 is essential for plant growth. A 100 percent increase in CO2 levels increases plant growth from 22-41 percent, depending on plant type. Aside from CO2, temperature also affects plant growth, warmer temperatures translate to higher growth rates, assuming the other photosynthesis ingredients are in place. Obviously within reason as nothing is growing on Venus, but a couple of degrees warmer (what the Paris attendees are fretting about) enhances plant growth.

Lastly plants have tiny holes on the underside of their leaves called stomata, through which plants ingest CO2. When the CO2 levels are higher, the stomata don’t need to open as wide to get the CO2 they need. Plants also lose water through these stomata (think of a plant ‘breathing’) so smaller stomata openings mean less water loss. The bottom line is that higher CO2 levels in the air means plants lose less, and therefore need less water to thrive, and can therefore grow in drier, previously unhospitable environments.

Putting this together, higher CO2 levels with slightly warmer temperatures, increases the productivity of most plants. This leads to a “greening of the planet”, combating the effects of fires, deforestation, pest outbreaks and other attacks on Earth’s vegetation. As the planet greens, dry climates become fertile, supporting plant life which in turn feeds both humans and animals.

Such “CO2 fertilization” correlated with an 11 percent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across many arid regions of the world. Think of the resulting benefits, including the reduction of hunger, disease, and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The opposite effect of Bernie Sander’s claim that global warming is causing more terrorism.

Instead the UN Climate Change Conference pushes in the opposite direction, promoting less atmospheric CO2 and cooler temperature which in effect will lead to a “browning” of the Earth. Funny how the UN charter includes among its goals, “To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” How better to accomplish this than by fertilizing the planet with the cheapest and most effective plant food known to man, CO2.

Unless of course the climate change alarmists at the UN and elsewhere are less concerned about carbon footprints and global temperatures than they are about social engineering. The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, a consultant organization to the UN, gave a press conference in Paris claiming that, “If we are to address the climate crisis we need to challenge the structural causes of the crisis which lies on unequal distribution of wealth, of carbon, and of power.”

They let the cat out of the bag. “Unequal distribution of wealth.” One of Karl Marx’s pet peeves. If the global do-gooders were really concerned with the poor, they would embrace concepts, such as CO2 fertilization, that raise the standard of living of poorer countries. Instead the goal is to redistribute wealth and resources to the point that everyone is poor, except of course for those in charge.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon and writer. Follow him on Facebook  and Twitter

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