Plants need more C02, not less

H. Leighton Steward
Washington Examiner
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Congress and federal regulators are poised to make a misguided and reckless decision that will stifle our economy recovery and spur long-term damage to plant and animal life on earth.

In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency will hold hearings to justify the movement to brand carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. Congress will also consider cap-and-trade legislation that, if enacted, could also regulate CO2 as pollution.

Why is it such a catastrophic decision? Because there is not a single piece of evidence that CO2 is a pollutant. In fact, lower levels of carbon dioxide actually inhibit plant growth and food production. What we see happening in Washington right now is the replacement of politics for science in conversations about CO2.

For plants, CO2 is the greatest, naturally occurring air-borne fertilizer that exists. Even schoolchildren learn in elementary science class that plants need carbon dioxide to grow. During photosynthesis, plants use this CO2 fertilizer as their food and they “breathe out” oxygen into the air so humans can inhale it, and in turn exhale CO2. This mutually beneficial and reinforcing cycle is one of the most basic elements of life on earth.

An article appeared recently in the Environment and Energy Daily that claimed a “modeled” nitrogen deficiency will occur as CO2 rises. Well, CO2 has already risen over 37%, 105 parts per million, and where is the real world nitrogen deficiency?

Why are Earth’s forests lush if the added growth that has already occurred, due to big bursts of CO2, has depleted the nitrogen supply? The nitrogen supply of pristine ecosystems has been resupplied through natural processes for eons.

Computer models, manipulated to produce desired results, can generate catastrophic, front page, forecasts. We encourage our government’s scientists to step back from their models and observe what is and what has happened in the real world, as well as in actual plant experiments. Doesn’t anyone recognize the good news that is staring them in the face?

It simply defies imagination, let alone science, that the United Nations has now backed an arbitrary limit on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The chairman of the politically charged Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said he supports efforts to reduce carbon dioxide to 10% below current levels.

In the context of today’s political conversations, this recommendation may sound like an acceptable position to save the environment. But the scientific reality of such a step is quite the opposite. Lowering carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have catastrophic affects on our food supply.

Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide support plant life and helps plants thrive. If our food supply is reduced, the hunger crisis in many parts of the world will worsen. Not only would lowering CO2 levels be wrong, one can make the argument that even higher levels would be desirable. Greenhouse operators routinely increase CO2 to about three times the current level in earth’s atmosphere in order to encourage plant growth.

We know CO2 is vital for plants, but what about the argument that it is a dominant contributor to the greenhouse effect? Again, science does not support this argument. CO2 is not even close to being the most important of the greenhouse gases. Most of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapor, which is more than 30 times as abundant in the atmosphere as CO2.

As further evidence, we find that as the post-war industrial boom began to put significant volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere, global temperatures did not rise. Since 1945, there have been about 40 years of cooling trend and only 20-plus years of warming.
While the warming is significant, it followed an unusually high period of solar activity.

Temperature did rise steeply in the 1920’s and in the 1930’s in the U.S. and 1934 was the warmest year of the 20th century. The rate of warming then was also higher than in the 1980’s and 1990’s, even though CO2 levels were lower.

Many in the scientific community reject reducing atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million, as Dr. Pachauri of the U.N. wishes. Thousands of peer-reviewed experiments have demonstrated CO2’ s ability to “green” the earth dramatically.

Nonetheless, Dr. Pachauri and those who prefer to debate science with politics are sticking to their old story and clinging to their inadequate climate models and their headline-grabbing catastrophic forces.

Do Americans want to see their government spend trillions of dollars removing CO2 that will not lower the Earth’s temperature but absolutely will risk harming ecologies, economies and mankind itself?

H. Leighton Steward is chairman of

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