Study: Rising CO2 a Net Plus for Earth, Humans

Published January 1, 1999

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide, believed by many to be a major factor in global warming, might be one of the best things that could happen to Earth and its inhabitants.

In fact, when the direct and indirect effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) are considered, the world is much better off now than it was when levels of the gas were lower.

So concludes a special report published by the Arlington, Virginia-based Greening Earth Society.

Entitled “In Defense of Carbon Dioxide: A Comprehensive Review of Carbon Dioxide’s Effects on Human Wealth, Welfare, and the Environment,” the report was prepared by New Hope Environmental Services, New Hope, Virginia.

The report admits the fact that at high concentrations–15,000 parts per million (ppm)–the gas begins to have negative effects on the human body that can lead to death.

“But it is impossible for this concentration to occur in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of the combustion of fossil fuel,” said the report. Emission levels that high would “require an impossible burn rate.”

Ice core measurements put CO2 levels during the past 10,000 years at about 280 ppm; reflecting industrial activity of the past 150 years, concentrations of the gas have risen 25 percent, to about 360 ppm.

“Human beings simply do not have the foreseeable industrial capacity to bring atmospheric concentrations anywhere near the toxic 15,000 ppm level,” according to the report.

Enhanced agricultural production is among the direct benefits attributed to increased CO2 levels , since the gas is a critical element in photosynthesis. During this process, CO2, when mixed with water, is converted to sugars and oxygen. Animals breath in the oxygen, consume plant matter, exhale CO2, and the cycle begins again.

Citing the work of Sylvan Wittwer, chairman emeritus of the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture, the report notes that “global agricultural output has increased 8 percent to 12 percent due solely to the rising levels of atmospheric CO2 in the last 50 years.”

The gas also protects plants from moisture stress as well as pollutants, oxidants, and low light levels.

Determining the extent of global climate change remains a difficult task because to date, the only way to assess environmental changes is on a regional basis, and there are no computer models that can replicate today’s regional climates. That is why, the report notes, predictions about changes like hotter summers or increased flooding have fallen short.

El Nino, which occurred in 1997-1998 and was blamed for just about every natural disaster that took place, is a classic example of how faulty conclusions can be drawn from computer models.

Originating off Peru’s coast as a result of oceanic warming during the winter, El Nino has been active for thousands of years and has left a geological record easily examined. Despite evidence that shows virtually no such activity 4,000 to 7,000 years ago when the Earth was actually slightly warmer than now, this year’s El Nino was linked for the first time to global warming.

In addition to pointing out the benefits of increased Co2 levels, the report also finds:

  • Greenhouse warming is primarily a phenomenon of cold and/or dry air masses.
  • The Earth has warmed several times less than predicted by computer models used as evidence during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • Temperature variability is decreasing.
  • Temperature extremes are decreasing.
  • The spread of tropical diseases is not related to climate change, but rather to poverty and overcrowding.

“The notion that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide will result in a net cost to society as a whole is simply unfounded,” the report concludes. “Far more compelling evidence exists to show that enhanced carbon dioxide levels result in a net benefit.”