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A greener future: science has demonstrated that plant life and food production will benefit substantially from higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Imagine a world without carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]). It would be a world without life. Plants of all kinds, from the greatest of the world's stately trees to the smallest single-celled algae, would disappear. Gone too would be the herbivorous creatures, including the elk and deer of the forest and the ox and horse of the pasture. Without the herbivores to prey upon, the great carnivores would disappear as well. Finally, without the plants and the animals, man too would disappear.

As every schoolchild knows, plants need C[O.sub.2], and the food chain, leading inexorably to man, depends upon plants. Fortunately, there is no shortage of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere and the Earth's plant life continues to thrive. In fact, as Danish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg notes in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, the amount of forested land in the world has been stable and may have grown.

Now, imagine a world in which C[O.sub.2] is increasing. Indeed, this is now the case. But what will be the result? Will plant growth benefit? Will crop yields improve? Will the Earth actually become greener? Even a rudimentary knowledge of C[O.sub.2]--one of the molecules blamed for "global warming"--would suggest that the answer to all of these questions must be yes. In fact, scientists know that an increase in the amount of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere would benefit plant life not only on the basis of our understanding of the science but on the basis of experimentation.

The Stuff of Life

The carbon dioxide molecule is composed of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A gas, C[O.sub.2] serves as the principal repository from which carbon is drawn for the construction of organic compounds. These include simple sugars, like sucrose ([C.sub.6][H.sub.12][O.sub.6]), as well as the more complex carbohydrates. These compounds, which form an essential link in the chemical chain reactions of life, are created by autotrophic organisms--plants--that gather carbon and energy from the environment, carbon from carbon dioxide, and energy from sunlight.

The means by which plants do this is photosynthesis, a process requiring both light and carbon dioxide. Of the reactions involved, those that require C[O.sub.2] result in the construction of carbohydrates, including starches and sugars. This process begins with carbon fixation and is initiated when carbon dioxide in the air diffuses into the leaves of plants and into spaces between photosynthetic cells. There, enzymatic activity captures the carbon atoms that are then used by the plant to construct necessary carbohydrates. Plant growth depends on the efficient utilization of carbon dioxide.

Dr. Sherwood Idso currently serves as president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a post he's held since 2001. Prior to that time, Dr. Idso served as a research physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona. In experiments conducted with orange trees, Dr. Idso found that increases in carbon dioxide led to increased growth in orange crops.

Dr. Idso's experiments showing a correlation between increased levels of C[O.sub.2] and increased plant growth have been confirmed by results obtained by similar studies conducted by other scientists using other species. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change maintains a database, available online, tracking the startling results of many of these studies.

A Greener Globe

In the studies tracked by the center, results were obtained with the equivalent of a 300 part per million (ppm) increase over current ambient C[O.sub.2] levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitoring station at Hawaii's Manna Loa observatory, current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hover near 379 ppm. In the center's tracking of studies done on wheat, for instance, the majority of findings indicate that the addition of 300 ppm of C[O.sub.2] to the atmosphere leads to large increases in wheat biomass. Under test conditions then, the studies were conducted under the equivalent adjusted value of nearly 670 ppm of C[O.sub.2]. This is probably not an attainable level in the real world atmosphere, however, the studies clearly show that plant performance is enhanced by increased C[O.sub.2] levels.

This has major implications for the well-being of mankind. With increasing C[O.sub.2] levels, all sorts of crops, including wheat, can be expected to be more productive, increasing the food supply. This fact is never cited by those who, like Paul Ehrlich and other Malthusian population controllers, agitate for governmental limits on the growth of human populations. This is perhaps because many of those advocating harsh population-control measures are also vocal global warming alarmists. Good news simply doesn't fit their political agenda. Nevertheless, it is clear that higher levels of C[O.sub.2] have the potential to benefit man.

It is not just plant growth that is encouraged by elevated levels of C[O.sub.2]. The suggestive findings of one study indicate that plant reproduction may also benefit. In findings published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2002, scientists Peter Wayne, Susannah Foster, John Connolly, Fakhri Bazzaz and Paul Epstein found that ragweed pollen production is increased substantially when high levels of C[O.sub.2] are present. The Wayne, et al., study grew ragweed plants from seed, "at both ambient and twice-ambient C[O.sub.2] levels. Outcome measures included stand-level total pollen production and end-of-season measures of plant mass, height, and seed production."

The study was undertaken with an eye toward determining the likelihood of future increases in the incidence of hay fever in humans in light of elevated C[O.sub.2] levels. The findings of the study, whatever they are taken to mean in immunological circles, nevertheless indicate that ragweed plants, like other autotrophs, perform substantially better under higher C[O.sub.2] concentration conditions. "We found that stand-level pollen production was 61% higher in elevated versus ambient C[O.sub.2] environments ..., "the authors of the study wrote. "C[O.sub.2]-induced growth stimulation of stand shoot biomass was similar to that of total pollen production (63% ...). Both shoot height and total seed mass were also greater in elevated C[O.sub.2] environments (9% and 31%, respectively)...."

The authors of the ragweed study note in their conclusions that the results they obtained are consistent with those of other, similar studies. "[O]ur observed C[O.sub.2]-induced enhancement to shoot biomass is similar to average species enhancements values (54%) observed in surveys of fast-growing wild plants," they wrote. In fact, such conclusions have become widespread. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, Hendrik Poorter of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Marta Perez-Soba of Plant Research International noted, "Elevated carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) concentrations stimulate the rate of photosynthesis of most plant species. Consequently, it is expected that prolonged growth of plants at increased atmospheric C[O.sub.2] concentrations will enhance their biomass. This prediction is in agreement with most experimental results performed at optimal growth conditions."

The C[O.sub.2] Future

Not only do elevated concentrations of C[O.sub.2] stimulate plant growth and reproduction, they also allow plants to adapt to warmer temperatures. Poorter and Perez-Soba point out that "Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) concentrations generally have two direct and momentary physiological effects on plants. First, they increase the rate of photosynthesis of the leaves, because of higher C[O.sub.2] concentrations at the sites where enzymes fix C[O.sub.2]. Second, they cause stomata to partly close, thereby reducing the water loss due to transpiration." This second effect allows plants to adapt to and flourish in drier conditions featuring higher ambient temperatures.

Environmental extremists and their allies in government and the media tend to portray the future as one of impending disaster brought on by C[O.sub.2]-induced global warming. Reality, though, is far different from these gloomy predictions. As Drs. Craig and Keith Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change write, "With more C[O.sub.2] in the air, literally thousands of experiments have proven, beyond any doubt, that plants grow bigger and better in almost every conceivable way, and they do it more efficiently, with respect to the availability of important natural resources, and more effectively, in the face of various environmental constraints." (Emphasis in original.) Instead of environmental disaster, in a world with a C[O.sub.2]-enriched atmosphere, the future will be green, with abundance.
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Title Annotation:Global Warming
Author:Behreandt, Dennis J.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 14, 2004
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