Carbon Dioxide Emissions Stimulating $15 Trillion in Crop Production

Published October 29, 2013

Human carbon dioxide emissions are benefiting global agricultural production to the tune of $160 billion per year, according to a newly released study.

Between 1961 and 2011, carbon dioxide emissions stimulated $3.5 trillion in agricultural production beyond the baseline scenario without higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The study reports the cumulative benefits between 1961 and 2050 will top $15 trillion.

“Projecting the monetary value of this positive externality forward in time reveals it will likely bestow an additional $11.6 trillion on crop production between now and 2050,” the study concludes.

Climate scientist Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, authored the study.

CO2 Stimulates Plant Growth
“As literally thousands of laboratory and field studies have demonstrated, elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 have been conclusively shown to stimulate plant productivity and growth, as well as to foster certain water-conserving and stress-alleviating benefits,” the study notes. “For a 300-ppm increase in the air’s CO2 content, for example, herbaceous plant biomass is typically enhanced by 25 to 55%, representing an important positive externality.”

Proven Benefits vs. Speculative Harm
The study highlights the difference between observed, real-world carbon dioxide benefits and speculation about hypothesized future harms.

“The incorporation of these findings into future [social costs of carbon] studies will help to ensure a more realistic assessment of the total net economic impact of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations due to both negative and positive externalities,” the study explains. “Furthermore, the observationally-deduced benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on crop production should be given premier weighting over the speculative negative externalities that are projected to occur as a result of computer model computations of CO2-induced global warming” (emphasis in original).

The positive impact of carbon dioxide on plant life helps sustain crop production and food availability for the entire biosphere, the study reports.

“At a fundamental level, carbon dioxide is the basis of nearly all life on Earth. It is the primary raw material or ‘food’ utilized by the vast majority of plants to produce the organic matter out of which they construct their tissues, which subsequently become the ultimate source of food for nearly all animals and humans. Consequently, the more CO2 there is in the air, the better plants grow, as has been demonstrated in literally thousands of laboratory and field experiments. And the better plants grow, the more food there is available to sustain the entire biosphere,” the study observes.

“People may fear change, but all the facts tell us the changes brought about by higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and modestly warmer temperatures are significantly benefiting human health and welfare,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

Internet Info:

Idso, C., “The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide: Estimating the Monetary Benefits of Rising Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Global Food Production,” October 18, 2013: