A Greener Future: Science Has Demonstrated That Plant Life and Food Production Will Benefit Substantially from Higher Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere
Behreandt, Dennis J., The New American
Imagine a world without carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]). It would be a world without life. Plants of all kinds, from the greatest of the world's stately trees to the smallest single-celled algae, would disappear. Gone too would be the herbivorous creatures, including the elk and deer of the forest and the ox and horse of the pasture. Without the herbivores to prey upon, the great carnivores would disappear as well. Finally, without the plants and the animals, man too would disappear.
As every schoolchild knows, plants need C[O.sub.2], and the food chain, leading inexorably to man, depends upon plants. Fortunately, there is no shortage of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere and the Earth's plant life continues to thrive. In fact, as Danish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg notes in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, the amount of forested land in the world has been stable and may have grown.
Now, imagine a world in which C[O.sub.2] is increasing. Indeed, this is now the case. But what will be the result? Will plant growth benefit? Will crop yields improve? Will the Earth actually become greener? Even a rudimentary knowledge of C[O.sub.2]--one of the molecules blamed for "global warming"--would suggest that the answer to all of these questions must be yes. In fact, scientists know that an increase in the amount of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere would benefit plant life not only on the basis of our understanding of the science but on the basis of experimentation.
The Stuff of Life
The carbon dioxide molecule is composed of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A gas, C[O.sub.2] serves as the principal repository from which carbon is drawn for the construction of organic compounds. These include simple sugars, like sucrose ([C.sub.6][H.sub.12][O.sub.6]), as well as the more complex carbohydrates. These compounds, which form an essential link in the chemical chain reactions of life, are created by autotrophic organisms--plants--that gather carbon and energy from the environment, carbon from carbon dioxide, and energy from sunlight.
The means by which plants do this is photosynthesis, a process requiring both light and carbon dioxide. Of the reactions involved, those that require C[O.sub.2] result in the construction of carbohydrates, including starches and sugars. This process begins with carbon fixation and is initiated when carbon dioxide in the air diffuses into the leaves of plants and into spaces between photosynthetic cells. There, enzymatic activity captures the carbon atoms that are then used by the plant to construct necessary carbohydrates. Plant growth depends on the efficient utilization of carbon dioxide.
Dr. Sherwood Idso currently serves as president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a post he's held since 2001. Prior to that time, Dr. Idso served as a research physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona. In experiments conducted with orange trees, Dr. Idso found that increases in carbon dioxide led to increased growth in orange crops.
Dr. Idso's experiments showing a correlation between increased levels of C[O.sub.2] and increased plant growth have been confirmed by results obtained by similar studies conducted by other scientists using other species. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change maintains a database, available online, tracking the startling results of many of these studies.
A Greener Globe
In the studies tracked by the center, results were obtained with the equivalent of a 300 part per million (ppm) increase over current ambient C[O.sub.2] levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitoring station at Hawaii's Manna Loa observatory, current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hover near 379 ppm. In the center's tracking of studies done on wheat, for instance, the majority of findings indicate that the addition of 300 ppm of C[O. …