The Positive Social Benefits of Carbon Dioxide
“The very real positive externality of inadvertent atmospheric CO2 enrichment must be considered in all studies examining the SCC [social cost of carbon].”
- Craig Idso, “The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide: Estimating the Monetary Benefits of Rising Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Global Good Production.” Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (October 2013).
The Carbon Sense Coalition has accused those waging a war on carbon dioxide of being “anti-green.” Why? Because CO2 is the gas of life, feeding every green plant, producing food for every animal and in the process releasing oxygen, another gas of life, into the atmosphere.
A recent study in Remote Sensing, Measuring and Modeling Global Vegetation Growth: 1982–2009) notes that data from remote sensing devices show significant increase in annual vegetation growth during the last three decades.
They also report that CO2 fertilization is more important than climate variation in determining the magnitude of the vegetation growth. In its words:
The CO2 fertilization effect of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by mankind’s burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil, is beginning to assume its vaulted position of being a tremendous boon to the biosphere, as all of humanity and the entirety of the world’s animal life depend ultimately upon having a sufficient supply of plant life to sustain themselves.
Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute recently wrote in “Social Cost of Carbon: Do We Monetary Benefits of CO2 Emissions Outweigh the Costs?:
Climate campaigners increasingly invoke the concept of the “social cost of carbon” to justify carbon taxes, mandatory production quota for renewable electricity, and other policies to suppress fossil-fuel consumption…. [However,] carbon’s alleged social cost is highly subjective, inferred from speculative assessments of climate sensitivity, how global warming will affect weather patterns, how climate changes will affect economic activity, and how adaptive capabilities will develop as climate changes.
Writing in Forbes, Robert Bradley wrote:
Problem is, “social cost” has innumerable computable answers depending on assumptions. It is a garbage-in, garbage-out exercise because CO2, the green greenhouse gas, also called the gas of life, is a “social benefit” upon closer examination. Scientists have categorized 55 positive externalities to CO2 releases in the biosphere.
The whole calculation is an ivory tower plaything, not a quantifiable real-world concept, that many economists scoff at.
Economist Robert Murphy of the Institute for Energy Research has testified before Congress on the pernicious, subjects social cost of carbon. Ronald Bailey, science writer at Reason magazine has complained about “the delusions of precision promised by the computer models.”
More Greening Needed, Ahead
Current levels of carbon dioxide are well below optimal levels for plants, so all true environmentalists should welcome any increase – all life would benefit if the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere was triple current levels.
The biosphere always flourishes during the recurring but short warm eras on Earth. Ice ages are the times of extinctions. As oceans warm, carbon dioxide is expelled and water evaporates. Warmth, and more moisture and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere provide ideal growing conditions for the green world.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is replenished mainly from warming oceans but also from termites, volcanoes and exhaling animals, assisted by about a 3% contribution from burning carbon fuels.
No rational person could define carbon dioxide as “pollution”. It is a harmless, non-toxic, colorless natural gas that is the essential food for all plants which then produce food and oxygen for all animals.
Almost everything in coal was derived from plant material so burning it is no more dangerous than burning wood. Both will suffocate you if burnt in a confined space, but when dispersed in the vast atmosphere their emissions are beneficial plant fertilizers.
Naturally we should minimize real pollution of land, atmosphere and oceans.
Fossil Fuels Eliminate Pollution
Everything that man does could be seen to create some “pollution”. But very little pollution comes from modern coal-burning power stations. Modern power stations have extensive filtration equipment which ensures that the exhaust gases are harmless natural gases already present in the atmosphere – nitrogen, water vapor and carbon dioxide – all essential to sustaining life on Earth.
The smogs of Asia are not caused by burning washed coal in modern power stations. They are caused by burning everything else, usually in dirty open fires.
They burn cow dung, wood, cardboard, plastic, paper, recycled oil, tires, dirty coal, kerosene – anything available that will cook food, provide warmth/light or deter mosquitoes. Forest fires in Indonesia, cremations in India and dust from the massive Gobi desert all add to Asian air pollution. As do old worn-out boilers, furnaces, engines and obsolete power stations which can spew unfiltered exhaust gases, ash, soot and unburnt fuel into the air.
These are what cause real air pollution – carbon dioxide does not.
Fifty years ago, the suffocating smogs of London and Pittsburgh were solved by:
- bans on open fires and dirty furnaces, plus
- clean coal-fired electricity, and
- clean-burning piped coal gas.
The same solution will banish most Asian smogs today.