Posts Tagged 'carbon dioxide'

Photosynthesis and CO2 Enrichment

The benefits of increased atmospheric CO2 on crops are so extensive that a long article or book needs to be written to do justice to the subject and to the results of thousands of research trials. The improvement in photosynthesis efficiency at higher CO2 levels does not tell the whole story, but it is a good place to start, since all plant growth relies on this process.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants utilize visible light energy (e.g. sunlight) to convert aerial CO2 and water (from roots) into plant matter. This process also requires phosphorus and nitrogen.

There are three photosynthesis ‘pathways’, known as C3, C4 and CAM. CAM is unimportant for food crops, being the method used by cacti, succulents and agaves. Pineapple is the only food crop of any importance to use CAM, so CAM can be neglected for the present purposes. World food security depends on C3 and C4 photosynthesis.

Less than 1% of all plant species in the world use the C4 photosynthesis pathway. Of the 86 plant species that supply most of the world’s food, only five use the C4 photosynthetic pathway, of which only four are of much importance (corn [=maize], sorghum, millet, and sugarcane) yet these four constitute some 20% of all the food crops grown. Because of their high photosynthetic efficiency, the C4 crops corn and sugarcane are favoured for ethanol production by those who want to produce liquid biofuels rather than food, thus increasing food prices and poverty.

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Crops and 130 Years of Climate Records

Before we get into detail about plant biology and ecology, let us see what is being said about the effect of CO2 emissions on climate. Specifically, it is said that the earth warmed during the twentieth century. In truth, taking the earth as a whole, including parts of the earth where no-one lives and where crops are not grown (i.e most of the earth), a very small amount of warming occurred, about half a degree overall, none of which can be attributed to CO2 emissions in any robust scientific way – it has all the hallmarks of natural variation. Some parts of the earth cooled and some warmed.

We are told that the effects of future warming, coupled with decreasing rainfall, will cause terrible difficulties for crop production in the tropics and equatorial areas, because many crops in those regions are already on the limits for heat damage, and are already badly stressed due to drought (we will see the evidence in later posts that the best solution for crops that are heat or drought stressed is increased atmospheric CO2). We are told that the likely future scenarios will be worst for countries in the tropics and equatorial zones. Seldom are we told that the same scenarios predict much-needed warmth to northern Canada, northern Europe and Siberia, bringing vast tracts of land into agricultural use, which with the increased atmospheric CO2 will enable greatly increased food production – and that in countries that have the infrastructure, the technology, and the capital to make the best use of it.

But is it true that trends are pointing towards impending catastrophe in sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa? Not at all, if trends from the nineteenth century are anything to go by.

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World Food Supplies and Carbon Emissions

We are constantly hearing reports that a new revolution in agriculture is necessary to feed the world. With hysterical propaganda the media are hectoring us that global warming/climate change is going to make matters worse and reduce crop yields. In the June issue of National Geographic there is a special report entitled The end of plenty: the global food crisis. The article pays homage to the eighteenth century cleric Thomas Malthus as though he were a prophet, such as in his saying that “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. That was absolute rot in his day, and it’s absolute rot now. There was a ‘power in the earth’ that he knew nothing about – fossil fuels – that supported the greatest increase in subsistence, population and living standards this world has ever known, and can continue to do so even when the fuels are exhausted (as we shall see below). This world is never going to run out of carbon, water, nitrogen, phosphorous, or any other substance needed to grow crops, and when we can no longer get at them easily by using fossil fuels there will be another ‘power in the earth’ called uranium, and from that plutonium, that will enable us to extract them and produce them in the forms we need from all the materials at our disposal.

But such deranged thinking as Malthus committed to writing has been embraced by the neo-Malthusians, who are intent on reducing the population of the world by two thirds by getting the developed world to buy into evil policies such as reduction in fossil fuel use, introducing wasteful carbon capture and storage, embracing hugely inefficient and silly ‘renewable’ energy schemes rather than cheaper modern nuclear power, and use of biofuels, which take land out of food production and massively increase food prices, all in the end causing poverty, starvation and death to those at the bottom of the ladder in the developing world.

But what if we could introduce a supply of nutrient into farming as a by-product of improved lifestyles that would cost nothing, was completely harmless to all life forms, would need no human labour to apply, and would be effective at improving crop yields on all foods crops in every part of the world? This nutrient would improve crop yields by 30-100%, would enable crops to grow in arid soils with poor nutrients and little water, would make crops resistant to frost and heat damage, would enable crops to grow in areas of high salination and high air pollution, would speed up and shorten the growing cycle, would require less light, would allow most of the world’s crops to out-compete native weeds, would reduce the need for pesticide and weedkiller, would reduce soil erosion, would improve nitrogen fixation, and would reduce food prices…would you be interested? Unlike so-called ‘organic farming’, which permanently poisons the soil with copper salts and makes agriculture extremely inefficient, and food more expensive, and so plays into the hands of the Malthusians, this nutrient has massive benefits across the range. This wonderful nutrient is called carbon dioxide, and an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide has all these wonderful beneficial effects without a shadow of a doubt.

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A Fortunate Mistake

I return to the issue of the history of climate change ‘science’. The article in the October BBC History magazine by Dr Paul Parsons is a mass distortion of history and science. We gave one example in the post Convenient Lies.

One of the authorities underpinning this article is Spencer Weart, Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. It looks as though Parsons has cobbled together most of his article from Weart’s book The Discovery of Global Warming. Weart, for his part, has attracted public funding to the tune of $184,177 for studies in the ‘history’ of climate change. One would expect better value for money, because out of such studies emerges a string of scientists with phoney ideas and methods who are now hailed and adopted by the climate alarmists as visionaries because they ‘predicted’ anthropogenic global warming. One such is Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), the steam engineer and amateur meteorologist.

Even the American Meteorological Society have been sucked into this. In 2006 they published The Callendar Effect with the blurb

This is the untold story of the remarkable scientist who established the carbon dioxide theory of climate change. Guy Stewart Callendar discovered that global warming could be brought about by increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide due to human activities, primarily through burning fossil fuels.

But as meteorologists should know, climate warms and cools dramatically quite independently of man’s activities. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the problem was cooling, leading to serious crop failures, riots, and mass migrations, and, in 1816, the famous ‘Year without a Summer’. We are still, in our present day, recovering from these low temperatures, which caused great hardship and famine.

The view from North America in 1818 makes fascinating reading (fuller details at the bottom of the post):

But what may be considered as coming more home to the present generation is, that on ground where the vine once flourished, even the apple has of late years scarcely ripened. It is now sixteen years since the orchards have afforded a plentiful crop.
We are not however, it seems, alone; for in all the northern parts of our hemisphere the mean annual temperature is on the decline: and…in mountainous parts of Europe the accumulation of ice and snow is very sensibly increasing… From America, too, we learn, that, in consequence of the coldness of the seasons, Indian corn will no longer ripen in New England, and that the farmers have consequently taken to the cultivation of wheat, which has succeeded so well as to render it likely to supersede maize.

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