“Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are killing our planet. People must reduce their carbon footprint.” Both are popular claims that draw approving nods from some.
However, neither is true. CO2 is an elixir of life, supporting plants for hundreds of millions of years and making virtually all life on Earth possible. Plants rely on photosynthesis to produce glucose, using water from the soil and CO2 from the air.
In short, CO2 is plant food. As a matter of fact, CO2 emissions from industrial processes of the last two centuries have been highly beneficial to plant growth. Scientific studies show that CO2 has played a significant role in the re-greening of the earth after abnormally low CO2 levels had limited much of the planet’s vegetation due to CO2 starvation.
Even the remarkable increase in global food production of the past century has been made possible by higher levels of CO2, along with moderately warmer temperatures and modern farming practices.
Scientific American reports that the CO2 fertilization effect in natural ecosystems like forests is very evident. In a set of experiments, scientists artificially doubled CO2 from pre-industrial levels which “increased trees’ productivity by around 23 per cent.”
Francis Moore of the University of California, Davis, says, “For most of the other plants humans eat – including wheat, rice and soybeans – having higher CO2 will help them directly… Doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels does boost the productivity of crops like wheat by some 11.5 per cent and of those such as corn by around 8.4 per cent.”
Artificially elevating CO2 levels in greenhouses has proven to be a game changer in many parts of the world. Increasing CO2 concentrations to more than 1,000 parts per million from the ambient level of about 400 ppm has helped greenhouse farms improve productivity by 20 to 30 per cent.
Tomato growers have increased productivity and reduced water demand with CO2 enhancement. Studies show that elevated CO2 levels can enable tomatoes to grow in arid climate zones that are prone to droughts. Similarly, lemon trees have demonstrated improved drought resistance with elevated CO2 levels.