Monday, December 14, 2009

Lawrence Solomon on the Gas of Life

As usual Lawrence Solomon is a good source of quite pertinent data.  His interpretation is possibly a bit optimistic when it comes to lands under active cultivation.  The past two generation has seen a vast improvement in husbandry as well as the adoption of inputs that assist plant growth.  I would much rather see a collection of square mile blocs of wild lands analyzed and properly compared over the time frames. 

What is far more important is two items.  The first is that natural levels of 1000 ppm encouraged the evolutionary expansion of plants whose diversity and depth has nurtured our evolution.  This is a strongly positive indicator that we should welcome the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere.

The second item is that greenhouse growers see fit to increase CO2 to 1500 ppm in order to optimize the productivity.

Now the other reality is that we may be able to increase global CO2 another 100 ppm before we finish with our use of fossil fuels.  That still leaves us at about half the levels suggested for optimal plant vigor on Earth.

The second reality is that we will be sequestering around fifteen tons of carbon through biochar into every acre of agricultural land on earth.   We need to do this for two profound reasons.  The first is to secure a sustainable soil structure and replace present soil mining methods.  This may well take centuries, but I have absolutely no doubt that the corn and cassava fields of the tropics, the corn fields of the Midwest , and the  cattail fields of the boreal forest will all use biochar to secure their soils and largely eliminate  artificial nitrification with chemical fertilizers.

The second reason is to end toxic over fertilization and escapement of natural and artificial nutrients.

I have suggested in the past that it may become good practice to burn fossil fuels to replenish the atmospheric CO2.  We are now a lot closer to that radical position.

Lawrence Solomon: The gas of life
Posted: December 12, 2009, 1:53 AM by NP Editor

Western carbon dioxide emissions increase plant yields in the Third World. So why are they asking for reparations? 

By Lawrence Solomon
At Copenhagen, Third World countries are demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in reparations from the West for the consequences of the West’s fossil fuel burning, among them droughts and crop failures.
Third World countries have it backwards. The West’s CO2 emissions have been increasing crop yields while helping to ease the Third World’s water shortages. Rather than plead for reparations, Third World governments should offer a paean to Providence.
The bureaucrats at Copenhagen dread high CO2 levels. The biosphere craves them. Plants evolved when CO2 levels in the atmosphere stood at a healthy 1000 parts per million, two-to-three times today’s paltry level of about 380 parts per million. Plants crave CO2 so much that commercial greenhouse operators often enrich greenhouse air with CO2 — also known as nature’s fertilizer — to levels of 1500 parts per million, or four times that of our current atmosphere.
 Since humans began adding CO2 to the planet’s atmosphere, taking plants off their starvation rations by creating a planet-wide greenhouse, plants have thrived. Data from NASA satellites, which since the early 1980s have been tracking the amount of biota on Earth, vividly demonstrate the results. As CO2 emissions grew in leaps and bounds, so did plants — the data shows planet Earth is now greener than when those satellite measurements began.
 Growth in greenery varies from country to country, and within countries, because climatic factors are so many and so varied, but the overall trend is clear, and especially in the Third World. The Indian subcontinent, the Amazon, the tropical countries generally, all show marked improvement, with studies pointing to improvements in carbon dioxide levels as an important factor.

 China, which includes some of the most resource-stretched regions on the planet, provides the most dramatic demonstration of the boon in biota. As shown in a 2007 analysis by academics at the country’s prestigious Beijing Normal University, China’s plant growth increased by an astounding 24 % over the 18-year period studied, 1982 to 1999. The Chinese analysis, which like many others was based on satellite data, notes that China’s resource-constrained regions sometimes did particularly well. In water-constrained Northwest China, for example, plant growth increased by 29%. In Northeast China and the Tibetan Plateau, where temperatures ordinarily place severe limits on vegetation, plant growth increased by 30%. South China and East China, where sunlight is a limiting factor, saw plant growth increase by a still-impressive 19%. Changes in CO2 during those 18 years correlated well with the changes in vegetation.

 That plants love CO2 comes as no surprise — CO2 is not only their food, it is a gas to which they are superbly adapted. When the air is rich in CO2, plants don’t need to work as hard to breathe it in, letting them reduce the number of stomata, or air pores, on the surfaces of their leaves. Fewer pores means the plants breathe out less water vapour, letting them conserve moisture and better survive droughts. CO2 also helps plants survive droughts and other adverse conditions by extending their root systems, allowing them to collect minerals and moisture from afar. Through other mechanisms, CO2 protects plants against insect infestations, soil salinity and other environmental threats.

 This gas — also known as the gas of life — is healthful and helpful to humans, too. CO2 not only boosts agricultural yields, it boosts the antioxidant and vitamin content in plants, as well as their essential minerals. Also importantly, CO2 helps make hospitable marginal areas of the world that would otherwise be inhospitable.

Industrialization in the West, along with the fossil fuel burning that it has entailed, has been a win for the West and a win for the world, including the Third World. The colourless, odourless, tasteless gas called CO2 is indispensable to life and, because China and India are certain to rapidly increase their CO2 emissions, the world will soon be getting more of it. They say you can have too much of a good thing. With CO2, the science tells us, the planet is far, far away from reaching its cornucopia potential.

Financial Post
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.

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