Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Fire is about more than burns. Water is about more than floods. We’re so obsessed with carbon dioxide’s risks, we’ve become blind to its benefits.
Carbon Dioxide: The Good News is a 60-page report that begins with a foreword by eminent physicist Freeman Dyson. He recalls how the US Department of Energy made a momentous decision nearly 40 years ago. It drew up a “comprehensive plan” about the kind of CO2 research that should receive government funding.
Back in 1978, the personalities in charge were interested in one thing – how increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere might adversely affect the climate. But fire is about more than burns. And water is about more than floods. Ignoring the big picture is foolish.
Dyson wrote a memo at the time, arguing that CO2’s positive aspects were also important. While this same Department of Energy would honour him with a Enrico Fermi award 15 years later, acknowledging his “outstanding contributions to fundamental scientific knowledge in fields as diverse as physics, biology, astronomy, and mathematics,” in this matter his advice went unheeded. “My protest,” he says,
received no attention and the Comprehensive Plan prevailed. As a result, the public perception of carbon dioxide has been dominated by the computer climate-model experts who designed the [research] plan. The tribal group-thinking of that group of experts was amplified and reinforced by a supportive political bureaucracy.
The decision to shine an industrial-strength spotlight on CO2’s risks while turning a blind eye to its benefits profoundly warped the scientific discussion. What’s shocking is how few scientists have questioned this limited intellectual horizon given that the big picture reveals a totally different story.
In 1978, carbon dioxide represented 335 parts per million of our atmosphere. Today, it’s at 400 parts per million. That marginal uptick has done amazing things. Our planet is noticeably greener now than it was 40 years ago for the simple reason that, whatever else it might be, CO2 is plant food. There’s a reason commercial growers pump it into their greenhouses.
As Carbon Dioxide: The Good News makes abundantly clear, life has improved for plants, animals, and humans. Our forests are now more robust, our deserts have been greening, and our fields are significantly more productive. Bigger, stronger plants translate into more food for wild animals, and reduce the need to turn ever more wilderness into farmland to feed humans.
But that’s just the beginning. As author Indur Goklany points out in this report, published by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation,
Higher agricultural yields reduce food prices in general. This provides a double dividend for humanity. Firstly, it reduces chronic hunger, but secondly a reduction in chronic hunger is the first step toward improvements in public health.
Incredibly, a bit more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also makes plants more drought-resistant. The pores on the underside of their leaves don’t need to be as large, which means they lose less water. Growing healthier plants with less water is an enormous win for gardeners, farmers, and anyone else concerned about sustainable living. In a sane world, a compound that accomplishes all of this would be celebrated.
Instead, CO2 has been demonized. Activists and politicians talk non-stop about the need to reduce it. Impoverished African nations are denied coal-fired electricity and working class coal miners are thrown out of work because CO2 is now Public Enemy Number One.
The current state of affairs looks ever more scandalous when one realizes that the computer-model-generated predictions of dangerous climate consequences have failed the test of time. The average global temperature hasn’t risen at anything like the rate those computer models predicted it would. CO2 in the atmosphere has been slowly but steadily rising, yet the warming has been so minor over the past 20 years it looks like a plateau – which is what has sparked all the talk about a global warming pause or hiatus.
It now seems unlikely that a straightforward relationship exists between atmospheric CO2 and temperature. Moreover, computer models are even worse at predicting how CO2 affects rainfall. As the report points out:
a recent study of annual precipitation changes in California using 25 [climate] model projections indicates that ‘12 projections show drier annual conditions by the 2060s and 13 show wetter.’
One might as well flip a coin as believe a climate model.
To sum up, there is little convincing evidence to support the dominant view of carbon dioxide – that it is a dangerous greenhouse gas that must be curtailed to prevent catastrophic global warming. Yet the eminently more persuasive view – that small atmospheric increases in this trace gas benefits plants, birds, beasts, and humanity – continues to be rejected by the powers that be.
The blame for this absurd situation rests firmly with the scientific community. As Dyson writes in the foreword to this report,
The people who are supposed to be experts and who claim to understand the science are precisely the people who are blind to the evidence…That is to me the central mystery of climate science. It is not a scientific mystery but a human mystery. How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?
I urge you to download this good news report about the wonders of CO2. Read it and rejoice.