The benefits of climate change

What if burning fossil fuels was actually good for the environment? What if it fostered the flourishing of life on Earth?

Previously I posted on the overarching grounds of my skepticism about all the “global warming” alarmism. The underlying idea being that carbon is the building block of life, and fossil fuels are comprised of carbon that used to be part of the ecosystem. Releasing carbon into the ecosystem by burning fossil fuels is just another way of bringing all that carbon back into the game.

In theory there shouldn’t be a problem with bringing the total carbon levels back to their previous amounts, but what does the evidence say?

As a quick reminder, I am not anti-nature, and this article will help explain why. So far the actual effects of climate change appear, for the most part, to be very good for nature!

We are told that releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going to produce a whole bunch of very negative effects on our planet that result from the single underlying consequence of raising the atmospheric temperature. When the air gets hotter glaciers melt. Storms get more intense. Lots more rain. The list grows.

All of that sounds pretty nasty for us humans, but what if we reconsider all those consequences from a different perspective; that of plants. Then maybe the picture isn’t so bleak.

Plants, the next link in the chain

Carbon is one of the fundamental building blocks of life, and the next step up from carbon is plants. If there is extra carbon available, the possibility exists that the plants will suck that extra carbon up. After all, plants thrive on CO2, so burning fossil fuels is like injecting additional plant food into the atmosphere.

In fact – are you ready for a bit of a surprise? – people who operate real greenhouses do exactly that. In order to facilitate increased plant growth, operators of greenhouses will actually inject additional CO2 into the greenhouse to raise the CO2 levels above normal atmospheric levels. According to one website,

The benefits of carbon dioxide supplementation on plant growth and production within the greenhouse environment have been well understood for many years.

The article goes on to describe the relationship between CO2 levels and plant growth. Although there is an asymptotic limit (no surprise) the general trend is, ‘the more the merrier.’

So where does that additional CO2 come from? Do farmers buy CO2 in tanks? Does it come in pellets? No, they get the extra CO2, ironically, by burning fossil fuels. That’s right; farmers will go out of their way to burn fossil fuels and pump the exhaust into their greenhouses precisely because the byproduct of burning fossil fuels actually increases plant growth.

Ok, so science tells us increased CO2 should be good for plants, and farmers actually implement that strategy (and have for a long time already). But that’s on a small scale; individual greenhouses. Does the same principle at the scale of the entire planet?

Knowing that CO2 levels have been increasing, scientists tried to see if they could correlate that with increased plant growth. Surprisingly, they did. According to this study,

In the end, they teased out the carbon dioxide fertilization effect from all other influences and calculated that this could account for an 11 percent increase in global foliage since 1982.

This is what’s called negative feedback with at least some of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by extra plant growth. It could also be good news for biodiversity, and good news for food security: plants are the primary producers that feed all animals.

The testing was done on ” warm, dry places … arid regions.” And the testing proved that there was some good news associated with increased CO2 levels – increased plant life.

To put it perfectly bluntly, largely desert regions are showing more signs of lush plant life.

Increased plant life, not decreased. In other words, our science teachers were right and this is why farmers with greenhouses have been artificially raising the CO2 levels in their greenhouses.

And another study showed that plants do better in environments with elevated temperatures. So global warming would be… you guessed it; a good thing for plants.

Interestingly, the Environmental Protection Agency has a site that describes some of the possible impacts of climate change on crop yield and their message is pretty simple, “climate change = bad.” And yet, despite this overarching conclusion, their site includes this fascinating chart.

According to an agency that is trying to persuade us that climate change is bad for crop yields, crop yields have consistently increased for the past 50 years or so in the USA. Specific events in specific years have temporarily reduced yield, but the overall trend is that crop yield per acre has more than doubled since the 1960s.

Thanks, in part, to increased CO2 levels. In fact, it is interesting to compare the above chart showing crop yield across time to the chart below showing increased atmospheric CO2 concentration across time (from this website).

Higher CO2 is good for plants. Higher temperatures are good for plants. Crop yields have significantly increased in the past half century (here’s another site with more data showing the same trend).

So when farmers will, metaphorically speaking, stick the exhaust pipe from their fossil-fuel-guzzling farm truck directly into their greenhouses because they know full well the positive impact that will have on their crops, maybe we shouldn’t be quite so guilt-ridden when we go for weekend drives in the country. By doing so we are actually helping the plants beside the highway take a deep breath of extra-fresh, CO2 laden, air.

After plants?

I mentioned that plants are a step up from carbon, and animals are the next step up from plants. How are animals handling all this climate change?

Well, the “animal” we call human beings are obviously doing well. Our numbers continue to grow, and in places where the growth rate is stabilizing or declining (e.g., Japan) that change is due more to ideology and culture than ecology.

However, cattle are in decline. Oh my! Is this evidence of the negative impact of climate change? Are farmers having trouble keeping cattle alive during all these disastrous climate events? Hardly. The factor driving this one is consumer demand. People don’t want to eat beef as much as they used to. They don’t want to eat as much, so farmers don’t have to raise as much.

So if not beef, what are people eating? Well, apparently a whole lot more chicken. And the number of chickens being produced every year is very much on the rise, as this link shows. Chickens, it would seem, have not been adversely impacted by climate change.

CO2 levels have been increasing. The average temperature of the atmosphere has been increasing. Crop yields have been increasing. Chicken production has been increasing. With ever-increasing availability of plants and animals for food it would seem the conditions are right to put a dent in world hunger. Thanks, in part, to additional CO2.

The climate change picture doesn’t look quite so doom-and-gloom when you examine the actual changes taking place. So remind me why we are going to tax carbon? It’s supposed to be bad, right? Bad for whom? For what?