Let’s all Join the Green Party!
No, I don’t mean the group led by Elizabeth May and her followers. While I’m sure she is a nice lady with good intentions, I don’t like the way her and other contemporary greens have drifted away from true environmentalism and became fixated on opposing carbon dioxide.
The “party” I am referring to is the planetary feast with free food for all due to the recent abundant carbon dioxide being lavished on the atmosphere.
We all know the level of CO2 has been rising at a rate of about 1% per year for the last 50 years or so, with a significant contribution (half or more) coming from the burning of fossil fuels.
Less well known is the incredible effect that extra CO2 is having on plants. A plant that has sufficient water, sunlight, nutrients and protection from the cold is limited only by the amount of carbon dioxide it can extract from the air. Plants can nearly double their biomass with a doubling of ambient CO2, other factors being equal.
Incredibly, over the past 30 years, in which atmospheric CO2 levels has risen about 30% to 400 ppm, vegetation in general has increased by about the same amount. NASA, who measure the effect from space, estimate that the bloom in plant life is at least 70% due to increased CO2 (and they are climate alarmists).
Not only has biomass increased, but green cover has as well. Desertification has reversed, with an observed increase in foliage cover worldwide of about 11% in 30 years. Millions of acres of wasteland have recovered and become greener across the planet.
This effect has enormous implications for food. Agriculture has seen impressive gains, and farmers are set to take in record harvests again this year (in spite of local serious problems in places like western Canada). Yields continue to rise, while the total amount of cultivated land stays about the same. Farmers are benefitting from improving technology and seed variants as well, but the big factor has unquestionably been the CO2 greening effect.
Plants do better in every way in a higher CO2 environment. The photosythesis process becomes more efficient, and the plant can not only produce more biomass, but can do it with less water and fertiliser. In drier areas, water resources are conserved, and crops become more drought resistant. With less fertilizer applied, costs are reduced and there is less runoff pollution into waterways.
Another benefit comes from the global warming effect of CO2, which should theoretically result in higher air temperatures, of about 1 or 2 degrees. These raised average temperatures would occur predominately at night and in higher latitudes, according to the theory, which would tend to protect food crops against frost especially in breadbaskets like Canada and Russia.
The combined effects have increased food production by 40% since year 2000, as shown in the graphic below.
How much CO2 is optimal? Most greenhouses operate at about double the atmospheric concentration, (at around 800 ppm), but maximal plant growth has been shown to occur between 1500-2000 ppm. Not surprisingly, 2000 ppm is more in line with long term planetary averages, likely the level plants evolved in. How much is too much for us animals? Many enclosed spaces like classrooms, offices and vehicles regularly build up to 4000 ppm, due to the fact that our exhaled breath is 40,000 ppm. Concentrations above 5000 are not recommended. Since our food is worth 5 trillion dollars per year, we can estimate that the greening effect has been worth about at least a trillion dollars per annum. Of course food is far more important than its monetary value, and during times of famine it becomes priceless.
What about effects on our oceans? Haven’t we all heard about the new worry of ocean acidification? A leading expert, Dr Patrick Moore, concludes: “Laboratory experiments in which pH was kept within a range that may feasibly occur during this century show a slight positive effect on five critical factors: calcification, metabolism, growth, fertility and survival”.
So, the oceans are safe. In fact, ocean calcifiers are probably what almost got us into a very low “carbon crisis” of less than 150 ppm we were heading for before industrialization. The geologic record hints at other eras where runaway carbon sequestration by oceanic organisms have resulted in dangerously low atmospheric CO2 that have resulted in mass extinctions.
Could there be any downsides to increased atmospheric CO2? So far, there has not been any credible connection between rising CO2 and destructive weather, heat waves, forest fires, flooding or species extinctions. We shouldn’t become complacent though, and I think most people support the idea of continued balanced and rational study of all factors that might affect our atmosphere.
I hope this new Green Party lasts a long time. To keep the levels of CO2 up high enough to feed our plants, and in turn feed ourselves, we need to burn enough fossil fuels to counter the natural forces like ocean calcifiers or voracious rain forests that are trying to take the carbon out of our atmosphere and plunge us toward a new “climate catastrophe”. The present trend of about 2% annual growth in oil, gas and coal energy use should keep us safe for the foreseeable future, until we get smart enough to find better ways to control our planet’s atmosphere.
If we ever approach a new “tipping point” where carbon levels again start to fall, we can respond by building more coal plants and cement factories (clean ones of course with very good pollution scrubbers) to outweigh nature’s opposing forces.
What about those obsolete political Green Parties? As an environmentalist, I long for the days when courageous environmental heroes stood up to whalers or nuclear bomb testers, and practical activists took on industrial polluters to clean up rivers and lakes. Current greens are single mindedly fighting carbon dioxide, the gas of life, not understanding that they are only useful idiots to a well-financed and carefully planned foreign attack on domestic energy infrastructure. If you follow the money, there is no profit in protecting whales in the St Lawrence seaway, or shutting off raw sewage from West Coast cities into the Pacific. Instead there is generous financing from shadowy foreign sources, and top level political cover for anyone trying to frustrate an energy project, to the benefit of international competitors.
If you work in the vital petroleum energy sector, you may take pride in the fact that a necessary by-product of your output has serendipitously benefitted every living organism and kept the growing human population nourished.
Larry Weiers has extensive experience in many areas of the energy sector. His most recent role before retiring was VP of Energy Technology and Innovation with a senior North American Integrated Petroleum Company. He has published an e-book titled “Sustainability of the Modern Human Economy”.