Is this something about which to be concerned?
Well, just remember what 400 ppm actually means. That means this trace gas, the second of the four main greenhouse gases by which this planet is able to maintain a temperature sufficiently equable for us to survive on its surface, is now 1/2500th of all the gases in the atmosphere. 0.04%.
So should we be concerned about a gas whose sensitivity it turns out is relatively low, whose effect on warming decreases as it rises – and whose levels have historically increased due to warming, rather than the reverse.
Warmists are fond of reminding folk that understanding the connection between climate and carbon dioxide dates back over a hundred years, to the work of Svante Arrhenius. They are less fond of citing his observation that:
By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates.
Any era emerging from an ice age would concur.
We have known for an even longer time that carbon dioxide is plant food, so it should be no surprise to discover that, due in large part to the fertilisation provided by the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we have also been enjoying an abundant greening of the planet: according to satellite analysis, 14% greener over the last 30 years.
Any environmentalist should be excited! Matt Ridley is one who enthuses about this “global greening, the gradual, but large, increase in green vegetation on the planet”:
I think this is one of the most momentous discoveries of recent years and one that transforms the scientific background to climate policy, though you would never know it from the way it has been reported. And it is a story in which I have been both vilified and vindicated.
In December 2012, the environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University drew my attention to a video online of a lecture given by Ranga Myneni of Boston University.
In this lecture Myneni presented ingenious analysis of data from satellites proving that much of the vegetated area of the planet was getting greener, only a little bit was getting browner, and that overall in 30 years there had been a roughly 14% increase in green vegetation on planet Earth.
In this slide he argued that this was occurring in all vegetation types – tropical rain forests, subarctic taiga, grasslands, semi-deserts, farmland, everywhere.
What is more, Myneni argued that by various means he could calculate that about half of this greening was a direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, rather than the application of agricultural fertiliser, irrigation, warmer temperatures or increased rainfall.
Carbon dioxide, along with water, is the raw material that plants use to make carbohydrates, with the help of sunlight, so it stands to reason that raising its concentration should help plants grow.
I was startled by Myneni’s data. I knew that there had been thousands of so-called free-air concentration (FACE) experiments, in which levels of CO2 had been increased over crops or wild ecosystems to find out if it boosted their growth (it did), and that commercial greenhouse owners now routinely maintain CO2 levels in their greenhouses at more than double ambient levels – because it makes their tomatoes grow faster.
But the global effect of CO2 levels on the quantity of vegetation had not, as far as I could tell, been measured till now.
Other lines of evidence also pointed to this global greening:
- the increased rate of growth of forest trees,
- the increased amplitude of seasonal carbon dioxide variation measured in Hawaii and elsewhere,
- photographic surveys of vegetation,
- the increased growth rate of phytoplankton, marine plants and some corals, and so on.
By the time Myeni’s results were published, in April of this year, “His results were now even stronger than he had concluded in his 2012 lecture. Now he said that 70% of the cause of greening was carbon dioxide – up from half.”
As Myneni’s co-author Zaichun Zhu, of Beijing University, puts it, it’s equivalent to adding a green continent twice the size of mainland USA.
Frankly, I think this is big news. A new continent’s worth of green vegetation in a single human generation.
This is huge news, as Ridley makes clear:
In the very same issue of the same journal was another paper from an international team about a further benefit of global greening, which concluded that CO2 fertilisation is likely to increase crop water productivity throughout the world, for example by up to 48% for rain-fed wheat in arid areas, and that “If realised in the fields, the effects of elevated [CO2] could considerably mitigate global yield losses whilst reducing agricultural consumptive water use (4–17%).”
Their chart shows that without CO2 fertilisation, crops will become more water-stressed during the current century; with it they will become LESS water-stressed.
These are huge benefits for the earth and for people.
Not that most environmentalists consider people.
And since most predictions from warmists’ models’ have failed to come to pass “(think empty dams, no more snow in the UK and an ice-free arctic)” and as every year the scientists’ estimates of CO2’s climate sensitivity decreases – if (as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore points out) When Asked To Show Evidence Of Man-Made Warming, Scientists Can’t Do It. – and if (as Arrhenius insists) a warmer earth is a more equable place to be and (as Alex Epstein points out) the warming itself is mild and manageable, then why do so many continue to demonise this important trace gas?
Why tax its production?
Why demonise the fossil fuels by which we produce the gas as a byproduct in the process of “improving our planet and creating new resources”?
So let’s do it for the people! "I don't want an earth with the smallest human impact,” says Epstein. “I want an earth with the greatest human flourishing."
To do that we must understand we begin with an planet largely inhospitable to human life and by our own energies transform it. We must understand that does have an impact.
So long as we accept nonimpact as an environmental ideal [however], we will not fight passionately against those who oppose the energy of life, because we won’t consider its essence—the transformation of nature in service of human life—as a moral ideal.
But transformation is a moral ideal. I call that ideal industrial progress—the progressive improvement of our environment using human industry, including energy and technology, in service of human life. It’s why I named my think tank the Center for Industrial Progress. I wanted to start a positive alternative to the mainstream Green environmentalist movement, to replace the deadly ideal of nonimpact with the true ideal of industrial progress. We don’t want to “save the planet” from human beings; we want to improve the planet for human beings.
So should we all.
We can begin to get there be getting over our carbon inhibitions.
Understanding that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a plant food – that’s a real beginning.
UPDATE: Another excellent step: Two years after Australia has dropped their carbon tax, and less than a year after the climate conference in Paris, France has announced plans to drop their carbon tax…
[Pics from Matt Ridley, Watts Up With That, I Love CO2]