The Heartland Institute is prepping.
The red team blue team event is no longer on the undercard. Team leader cheer leader Joe Bast has figured their best play is to focus on the fact that carbon dioxide is good for you. Forget all the nitpicking over temperature anomalies and ocean heat content. The message is clear: loads of benefits would accrue to everyone if only we could have more CO2.
One plan of attack is to maybe sue a company that did not advocate for more CO2? This litigation would force the courts to consider the advantages of CO2. Could be a game changer.
It’s an interesting argument because it’s a fact–a real, scientific, peer-reviewed fact—that increased levels of CO2—up to a few percentage points, does increase yields for many plants including most of the cereals that agriculture depends on.
Not only do yields go up, the efficiency with which plants use water goes up as well—since the stomata cells on the leaves close up slightly due to the greater availability of CO2. This all sounds like a win-win situation doesn’t it. You can just imagine the way the Heartland Institute sees the future: Unlimited electricity to power and light the developing world generated by humming power stations burning coal and oil, and at the same time there are huge increases in agricultural production because of the increase levels of CO2. Once again, in this playbook, coal and oil save the planet. Rural electrification? Done. Food insecurity? A thing of the past.
It’s just that it’s all nonsense.
Here’s what it looks like in the real world.
This is what drought looked like in South Africa last year. Somehow I don’t think that this maize plant got to show a 10% increase in yield, and I’ve a feeling that increased water efficiency just wasn’t quite enough to help out.
The problem with many climate deniers is that they simply do not live in the real world. While they are chortling over the increased yield of their carefully nurtured plants as CO2 levels are carefully raised, real world temperatures are rising to the point where agricultural yields are reduced, drought is an ever-present threat, and after that comes torrential rain that floods and erodes the fields—not to mention the increasing attacks from insects that somehow always seem to thrive in the increased heat.
So in the clean greenhouses supervised by the folk in their ivory towers, plants respond positively to the increased levels of CO2. But what has that got to do with anything that is going on in the real world?
So is carbon dioxide a pollutant? This is a tricky one because the EPA is mandated to deal with pollution. Only if CO2 can be considered a pollutant, can the EPA claim the legal authority to regulate CO2.
So what exactly is a pollutant?
One definition might be be that a polluant is something that’s not supposed to be there: mercury, sulfur in acid rain, chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. These chemicals are not supposed to be in the environment. Easy to say that these chemicals are pollutants. But carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the environment. In fact, it’s essential for plant life–and therefore for all life on the planet. How can a gas that occurs naturally and which is essential for photosynthesis be called a pollutant?
How about methane? Most people would say—WHAT? No way. No way I want that stuff coming into my back yard. Yet methane occurs naturally in the environment and is emitted from wetlands, and rice fields, not to mention of course all those flatulent cows. The levels of methane in the atmosphere have been rising rapidly, and it’s a gas 28 times as powerful as CO2 in trapping heat. So we are OK with methane being regulated by the EPA? Most folk would say yes.
So not all gases considered a pollutant are alien to the environment. It has more to do with what it does to the environment as it increases in concentration, and as its impact becomes more and more destructive. Carbon dioxide in small amounts has a beneficial effect on plant yields. Carbon dioxide in higher amounts induces changes in the climate that will eventually destroy those same plants–through heat waves, droughts, storms and floods. And those probable impacts are not just restricted to agriculture. Every community on the planet is going to suffer, and none more so that the communities on small islands.
So whether a gas is a pollutant or not depends on its concentration. This is not something unique to carbon dioxide. Think about all the good stuff that will kill you if you overdose. That’s exactly what we are doing with carbon dioxide.
We have a total, massive overdose.
So are you saying that something that kills you when you overdose should not be regulated?
Bring on the red team.