“Radical environmentalists have misled people about the green greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The indoctrination of school curricula, the ignorance of the public, and the well-crafted lies of the radical environmentalists have wrongly demonized CO2.”
Today, some people portray carbon dioxide (CO2) as an enemy of the earth. We hear negative things about it in almost every aspect of life, including in schools, TV shows, and the mainstream media.
But is CO2 really a villain?
I was a little kid when I first came to know that in photosynthesis plants inhale CO2 and exhale oxygen. I also understood why plants shrivel and die with too little of it but grow better and better as CO2 levels rise. That’s why CO2 is not a pollutant.
Twenty-five years later, the truth about CO2 has not changed, but some people unabashedly claim that CO2 levels threaten earth’s biosphere. So, to understand why it’s mistaken to call the increase in atmospheric CO2 ‘dangerous,’ let’s check some facts.
Carbon dioxide is an invisible, colorless, odorless gas that is indispensable to life on earth. It is the elixir of life. Without it, life as we know it would be impossible.
An integral part of our environment, 98 percent of all CO2 is in the oceans and land (soil and plants). The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is just 2 percent. Of that 2 percent, nature put about 57 percent there, and humans about 43 percent.
In the interglacial periods of the distant past, atmospheric CO2 concentration—on the order of several thousand parts per million (ppm)—was much higher than it is today. It plummeted during ice ages to about 180–200 ppm, drastically reducing plant growth. In the roughly 20,000 years since the last ice age, CO2 concentration rose to about 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, but even then plant growth remained poor. The increase in CO2 concentration to about 400 ppm today is not harmful. Far from it, it has been tremendously beneficial for plants and, because we depend on plants for food, animals and humans.
Increased CO2 concentration is directly proportional to plant growth rates. Many important plant species show marked increase in their growth patterns when CO2 concentration increases.
In fact, in the 28 years in between 1982 to 2009, the increase in CO2 led to a significant increase in vegetation growth. That included increased the growth of major food crops like rice, wheat, and maize. Much of our current ability to produce record crop yields can be credited to increasing CO2 levels.
The benefits of CO2 and the role it plays to sustain life on earth are obvious. So why is there a war on CO2?
Some scientists blame CO2 for what they claim is a dangerous rise in global average temperature (GAT). But GAT has cycled up and down, sometimes with intervening periods of stasis, for the past 2000 years, while for the first 1750 years CO2 concentration has remained stable and for the last 250 years, including the last 50, it has risen steadily. This lack of strong correlation implies that CO2 cannot be the primary driver of GAT.
Also, some scientists estimate that burning all economically recoverable fossil fuels would raise GAT by only about 1.2˚C, far too little to be dangerous and probably instead beneficial.
Those vilifying CO2 as the main reason for a dangerous increase in GAT are misled by faulty computer climate models that overestimate its warming effect.
Sad to say, they are now misleading the public and policymakers. While doing so, they have also buried the undeniable benefits of CO2. The benefits for world agriculture from increased CO2 are estimated to be about $140 billion a year. This benefit is projected to increase in next three decades.
Radical environmentalists have misled people about the green greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The indoctrination of school curricula, the ignorance of the public, and the well-crafted lies of the radical environmentalists have wrongly demonized CO2.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.S., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Udumalpet, India.