Climate Changing for the Better

The idea that climate change is a negative thing, an unnatural thing, and an inevitably destructive thing predominates in our society.  In truth, climate change and carbon emissions have overwhelmingly positive effects. 

CO2 is incredibly good for plant growth.  Plants see significant improvement in growth with higher CO2 levels.  Greenhouses commonly increase CO2 levels to 1,500 ppm and the temperature to 80 F or higher.  For comparison, atmospheric CO2 levels are a bit above 400 ppm, and the average surface temperature on earth in 59 F.  CO2 also increases photosynthesis.  The production of carbohydrates increases as CO2 increases.  The fact that CO2 increases plant productivity is not only demonstrated in laboratory settings but also in nature. In one study, artificially doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels increased tree productivity by around 23 percent, wheat improved by 11.5 percent, and corn by 8.4 percent.  NASA satellites confirm the earth is greening.  Each year, 2 million square miles of green leafy area is added to the world.  The earth’s green area has grown over 5% since the early 2000s.  CO2 is also beneficial in that it increases fresh-water efficiency.  With increased  CO2 levels, plants can produce the same with less water, or produce more with the same amount of water.   Plants become more efficient at photosynthesis, which means less water released into the atmosphere, and more moisture retention on land.  Higher temperatures due to a warming planet means a longer growing season.  Per the EPA, the U.S. growing season has increased by 14 days since the beginning of the 20th century. Longer growing seasons give farmers increased crop yields and give farmers more options as to crop selection.  Higher temperatures from climate change also lead to increased precipitation.  Precipitation has increased approximately 5% in the United States since 1900.  Increased precipitation leads to better crop productivity, and to decreased droughts and decreased wildfires.  The lesser need for crop growing area means less wild land is turned into cropland.  This is environmentally friendly in that preserving wild lands helps animals and plants survive.  The greater water efficiency and increased precipitation means less use of fresh water.  The increased precipitation replenishes our aquifers and refills our reservoirs.  The ability of nature to become more productive in a changing climate shows the resilience of the natural world. 

Climate change may bring about greater energy conservation as well.  Regulating building temperatures is one area.  More energy is needed to heat homes and buildings than is needed to cool them.  Increased cloud cover, from the increased precipitation, means milder temperatures, less extreme highs and less extreme lows.  Lesser energy would be needed for cooling and heating. 

There are significant advantages of hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, and coal) as a fuel source.  Hydrocarbons provide a reliable, steady, cost-efficient energy.  The common renewables of wind and solar do not provide a steady source of energy.  Nor are wind and solar energy always obtainable.  These unsteady sources must be backed up by reliable sources.  Natural gas is a great backup.  Natural gas has high thermodynamic efficiency, produces less nitrogen oxides, less sulfur oxides, and fewer particulates than other common powerplant types.  When green energy fails to deliver the necessary, a simple cycle natural gas plant is often switched on in order to supply power.  A simple cycle natural gas plant is operated by propelling hot gas through a turbine to generate electricity.  Such plants may take only 10-15 minutes to reach maximum capacity.  Combined cycle plants will kick in later, typically after about half an hour.  Combined cycle plants use hot gases to propel a turbine, and also use that heat again to create steam which turns turbines as well.  Comparatively, a coal power plant may take four to eight hours.  Nuclear power plants can take hours, with newer plants having the ability to make changes more rapidly.  Hydroelectric power also has issues.  Low water levels can impede the ability to turn electric turbines.       

If there does come a day where the negative impacts of increased CO2 levels outweigh the benefits, there are several solutions.  One solution could be to pump seawater into reservoirs in places like the Sahara.  This would mitigate the issue of rising sea levels.  In these reservoirs, we would grow types of plankton, algae, and seaweed that are specially bred to pull large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.  The aquatic plants could be grown, then harvested for use as fertilizer.  We could green the arid regions around the world, like the Sahara.  Terrestrial plants like trees could be grown as well.   Another method could be recycling of carbon.  Typically, when we burn energy, it is released to the atmosphere.  We could capture those carbon emissions and find an energy effective way to turn those carbons back into a usable form of energy.  The earth is always changing.  Life is always adapting.

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