Our Friend CO2

One of the stupider arguments making the rounds in the media is that “carbon-dioxide-is-not-pollution– it’s life”.

In fact, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) produced a hilarious commercial saying just that.

Friendly footage shows how CO2 comes from little girls blowing dandelion seeds, and prancing gazelles. Then cue the ominous music: “now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant – imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then?

Perhaps a bit of back-story is in order. The CEI has received a whopping $2,005,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Their point person on climate change is the notorious Myron Ebell who is so pathologically pro-oil he once claimed that good gas mileage is a mass killer.

So what are the CEI (and their funders in the fossil fuel industry) so worried about? After decades of the atmosphere being used as a free dumping ground for astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide, the federal government is finally considering putting some regulations on our friend CO2.

It is no surprise that this proposed policy is about as popular with Big Oil as a fart in a diving bell.

The fight around CO2 regulation has been brewing for a long while. Back in 2007, the US Supreme Court found the EPA was negligent in not listing CO2 as a legally defined “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act. This designation would trigger long overdue regulation of carbon emissions – something the Bush Whitehouse was predictably opposed to.

Years of delay ensued where essentially nothing happened, other than climate change became exponentially worse. Interestingly, Myron Ebell of the CEI was accused of colluding with the Bush Whitehouse to discredit elements within the EPA that wanted to move forward with CO2 regulation.

Pitted against this immovable object was a seemingly unstoppable force. Barack Obama was elected President, and change ostensibly came to Washington.

Just last month the EPA finally submitted their carbon dioxide determination to the Whitehouse, deciding that CO2 meets the legal definition of “pollution” based on the well-known impacts climate change will have on human welfare, and almost everything else on the planet.

This is a first step on a long road towards recognizing that using the atmosphere as an unregulated dumping ground for CO2 is not only dangerous, but unfair to the taxpayer who will have to pick up the tab as our climate chickens come home to roost.

While CO2 does not stink or make your eyes burn – it is definitely dangerous in the amounts now emitted around the world:

  • Climate change from burning fossil fuels has been identified by experts as a greater threat to humanity than global terrorism.
  • Leading researchers testified before Congress just last month that large parts of the United States may be rendered an uninhabitable wasteland – perhaps within the next ninety years.
  • Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the chief scientist for the US State Department testified last week that carbon-driven climate change could leave one billion in famine in only forty years.

Historic CO2 concentrationsAll this is being driven by ballooning levels of CO2 that have not been seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for at least the last 800,000 years.

If all that isn’t dangerous, I don’t know what is.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, why not use legislation already on the books?

The venerable Clean Air Act remains one of the most powerful tools to begin making polluters pay for the well-known impacts of climate change.

But then, what polluter wants to pay for anything? Big Coal and the oil industry are pushing back hard.

Last year, the coal industry threw $45 million at a public relations campaign, and more than $10 million on lobbying. This was largely to promote the fiction of “clean coal” to the pubic, the media and lawmakers.

Hence the ridiculous argument being puffed up in the popular press that CO2 is merely a harmless gas exhaled by little girls and gazelles.

For the record, no one is disputing that historic levels of CO2 are essential for life as we know it. It is routinely added in greenhouses (and grow-ops) to boost production.

But as they say, a little dab will do ya. Too much of a good thing, be it water, whiskey or botox will kill you. The trick is knowing how much is too much.

Of course the fossil fuel industry would like the bartender to keep pouring a long while yet. And as with any drunk, rational conversation is not always possible. Sometimes the best way to keep the party going is denying there is a problem.

You can therefore expect to hear much more nonsense from the fossil fuel lobby about our invisible, harmless friend CO2.

This month we’re giving away FREE copies Keith Farnish’s new book Times Up: an uncivilized solution to a global crisis.

Go here to find out more details about DeSmogBlog’s monthly book give-away.


I have yet to see an objective rebuttal to my comment on the beneficial effects of elevated CO2 on plant photosynthesis, growth, and water use efficiency I made in the post on Lord Monckton.


So here is the truth about plants and CO2;


Raising CO2 levels promotes plant photosynthesis (Ainsworth, E.A. and Long, S.P.  2005.  What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)?  A meta-analytic review of the responses of photosynthesis, canopy properties and plant production to rising CO2.  New Phytologist 165: 351-372.),  raises water use efficiency (Wullschleger, S.D., Tschaplinski, T.J. and Norby, R.J.  2002.  Plant water relations at elevated CO2 - implications for water-limited environments.  Plant, Cell and Environment 25: 319-331) and shows no signs of down-regulation to long term exposure to elevated CO2 (Onoda, Y., Hirose, T. and Hikosaka, K. 2007. Effect of elevated CO2 levels on leaf starch, nitrogen and photosynthesis of plants growing at three natural CO2 springs in Japan. Ecological Research 22: 475-484.).


Finally elevated CO2 interacts positively with increased temperature (Usami, T., Lee, J. and Oikawa, T.  2001.  Interactive effects of increased temperature and CO2 on the growth of Quercus myrsinaefolia saplings.  Plant, Cell and Environment 24: 1007-1019.), so the future of plants in a (possibly) warmer, CO2-enriched world is rosy. And what is good for plants is good for us.

There is plenty of evidence that increased CO2 and higher temperatures have a negative effect on both photosynthesis and growth of a large number of important crops. I discussed the effects on photosynthesis on the thread that you claim “I have yet to see an objective rebuttal to my comments”. That is a lie; perhaps the reason you do not see things is that you go around with your eyes closed or your head in the sand.

I am not going to go through your references since you just give a list of papers which usually don’t support your claims.

Here is a paper on research done at the International Rice Research Institute. It shows that yields of rice fall 10% for every 1 degree C rise in minimum temperatures during the growing season.


Ian I am not a environmental major or anything. But from what I know ,I agree with you that he goes around with his eyes closed. It’s all well and good that there is much evidence, from whatever sources, that supports the claim about raised CO2 levels creating a paradise for plants. There is almost always a con side to an argument or fact, so thank you for pointing it out and giving reference! amy

I would hardly call a paper that reviews 279 other papers “cherry-picking”, but then I am not a “climate scientist”, nor an AGW “Alarmist”.

For information:  Ainsworth, E.A. and Long, S.P.  2005.  (What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)?  A meta-analytic review of the responses of photosynthesis, canopy properties and plant production to rising CO2.  New Phytologist 165: 351-372) showed that plants increased their productivity up to at least 1200pm CO2 and this effect was particularly pronounced in plants that where “resource limited or stressed”.

I also read the paper on rice yields v temperature (not that your link worked- I had to search the International Rice Research Institute database). Not surprisingly, since rice is a C3 plant grown in the Tropics, high night-time temperatures reduce yield by increasing dark respiration. What it doesn’t say is increased CO2 will enhance photosynthesis, particularly at the high light levels found in the Tropics, by relieving the (current) low CO2 concentration limitation on RUBISCO (the primary carboxylating enzyme). On balance therefore ,yields of rice will increase in a World where CO2 levels are rising, irrespective of any (limited) temperature increase.( Alonso, A, Pérez, P,  Morcuende, R, Martínez-Carrasco, R. (2008) Future CO2 concentrations, though not warmer temperatures, enhance wheat photosynthesis temperature responses Physiologia Plantarum 132: 102–112) - A central finding of this study was that the increase with temperature in photosynthesis, and the photosynthesis temperature optimum, were significantly higher in plants grown in elevated than ambient CO2.


So Jim, back to basics. Please try and get it right next time.

Phlogiston quotes Elizabeth Ainsworth “What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)?” in  a 2005 paper. Too bad you didn’t check on her more recent papers. You, like many other deniers can only think (and I use the word loosely) in one dimension. That is, if CO2 is shown to be good for one plant, then it must be good for all plants. Also, you always neglect adding in the other factors which increased CO2 changes.


In her 2005 paper EA shows that the greatest increase from CO2 enhancement mostly came from woody trees and cotton. I don’t know about you but the majority of people on Earth do not use these as staples in their diets.


She also carried out experiments on the effects of increased low-level ozone on plants. This had a negative effect.


If we look at the data in her 2008 paper and stick with rice we find the following: effect of higher CO2 (627 ppm) increase of growth of 12%, however increased ozone (62 ppb) decreased growth by 14%. Couple that to the 10% decrease for a 1degree C rise in minimum temperatures I quoted (note that 627 ppm CO2 will result in a lot more than 1 degree C rise in temperature) and you will get a net reduction of approximately 12%.


Still think higher CO2 concentrations will be good for food production? Note these estimates do not factor in other expected negative effects such as massive changes in rainfall, rainfall at the wrong time of the year, increased pest activity (fungi and insects).


The funny thing is that deniers always claim that climate scientists always just consider one factor in looking at what is causing global warming, of course this is an easily disproven lie since climate scientists always look at other factors such as solar effects, volcanoes etc. It is the denier mob that only looks at one factor, the one factor which bolsters their false claims and neglect everything else.


EA’s paper is “Rice Production in a Changing Climate: A Meta-analysis of Responses to Elevated Carbon Dioxide and Elevated Ozone Concentration” (2008): Global Change Biology, 14:1642-1650.




I apologise for the wrong link to the PNAS paper. The correct link is:



Oh well done Jim, you have managed to find one of the few papers that (barely) supports your case! Unfortunately it is limited to Rice which, as I have already stated, is not well-suited to Tropical conditions. Ainsworth also stated “On average, elevated carbon dioxide (627 ppm) increased rice yields by 23%.” and “there have been too few studies of the interaction of carbon dioxide and ozone for meta-analysis”.

Sort of undermines your interpretation doesn’t it?


For a broader perspective on elevated CO2 and Ozone interactions look at Volin et al (1998) who demonstrated that for C3 grasses, C3 trees and C4 grasses, the deleterious effects of the high ozone concentration were reduced, or eliminated when plants were exposed to elevated levels of CO2.


Finally CO2 and temperature interactions have been well-studied and new publications add little to the debate. Thus Cannell & Thornley  (1998) show that: (1) elevated CO2 increases photosynthesis more at warm than at cool temperatures. (2) elevated CO2 may substantially raise the temperature optimum of photosynthesis at warm temperatures.

This is supported by Greer et al. (2000) who grew five pasture species at 18 and 28°C and reported that plants concomitantly exposed to 700 ppm CO2 displayed average photosynthetic rates that were 36 and 70% greater, respectively, than average rates exhibited by control plants subjected to ambient CO2 concentrations.  Moreover, the average CO2-induced biomass increase for these five species rose dramatically with increasing air temperature: from only 8% at 18°C to 95% at 28°C. 


EA’s paper is “Rice Production in a Changing Climate: A Meta-analysis of Responses to Elevated Carbon Dioxide and Elevated Ozone Concentration” (2008): Global Change Biology, 14:1642-1650.


Volin, J.C., Reich, P.B. and Givnish, T.J.  1998.  Elevated carbon dioxide ameliorates the effects of ozone on photosynthesis and growth: species respond similarly regardless of photosynthetic pathway or plant functional group.  New Phytologist 138: 315-325.


M. G. R. Cannell And J. H. M. Thornley  (1998) Temperature and CO2 Responses of Leaf and Canopy Photosynthesis: a Clarification using the Non-rectangular Hyperbola Model of Photosynthesis. Annals of Botany 82: 883-892


Greer, D.H., Laing, W.A., Campbell, B.D. and Halligan, E.A.  2000.  The effect of perturbations in temperature and photon flux density on the growth and photosynthetic responses of five pasture species.  Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 27: 301-310.


You don’t even know who you are talking to.

Note to Administrators: why do you allow these dishonest trolls to use your blog as an echo chamber for the denier websites? It does nothing to atttract thoughtful people. I have noticed that there has been a marked drop off in participation by knowledgable people who are willing to correct these ignorant clowns.

You are supposed to be removing the smog not adding to it.

If this continues I will not be a contributor in the future. I spend a lot of my time checking and correcting the errors and dishonest statements by these deniers. I have reached my limit. If something is not done to restrict their dishonest posts I will stop correcting their dishonest posts.

Ian, just how am I being dishonest?

It is a well known fact (except amongst climate alarmists) that the temperature optimum of C3 plants (those in which the first product of photosynthesis is 3-phosphoglycerate) is around 25C because as temperature increases the O2/CO2 ratio in the mesophyll cells also increases.  This, in turn, causes RUBISCO to operate increasingly as an oxygenase, rather than a carboxylase. Increasing the concentration of CO2 redresses this and allows RUBISCO to operate (primarily) as a carboxylase again. This is why C4 plants, which are largely found in the Tropics and use a light-driven CO2 “pump” to raise CO2 levels in the bundle sheath cells to around 1000ppm, have photosynthetic optima in the region of 35-40C.

So as atmospheric CO2 increases the temperature optimum of C3 plants will also increase, outstripping any minor increases in temperature caused by the limited greenhouse effect of CO2.

No references this time, because you don’t read them and even when you do you don’t believe what they say.

There are non so blind as those who will not see”

Carbon dioxide is the major compound that causes global warming. But we should also appreciate it despite of the pain it brings to our climate. Without carbon dioxide, plants will not complete its photosynthesis. Life is full of contrasting things. Joe Biden has made Dick Cheney look good. Joe Biden has now achieved what was once thought to be impossible, by his leaking the location of the Biden bunker. The Biden Bunker is the secure location that the Vice President goes to in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster. We now know the Biden Bunker is at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Many would give cash loans to get Joe Biden to clam up from now on. He gave this all away at an appearance at the Gridiron Club. (Was an open bar a factor?) Perhaps Joe Biden could get some lessons on restraint with the help of a cash loan.