Ridiculous and Dangerous Lies About Climate Change

Have you heard of the CO2 Coalition? It’s another conservative think-tank (how many of these things do they need?) designed to spread misinformation and doubt about climate change. Their main argument is particularly insidious, as it is rooted in reality despite its obfuscation of the truth: carbon dioxide is good for plants. Plant life breathes in carbon dioxide, and almost all the biomass of any plant comes from the carbon dioxide in the air. This is an absolutely true statement; plants need CO2 to grow. However, what the CO2 Coalition does not mention is the fact that we don’t need more CO2. Plants grew just fine before the industrial revolution, and to pretend that more CO2 in the atmosphere means better crop yields is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst.

There is a carbon cycle in our planet that exists in delicate equilibrium, or at least, there was equilibrium before we annihilated it. Plants breathe carbon from the air; animals eat that carbon, then exhale the carbon as CO2. It’s the circle of life, just like James Earl Jones told us, but with more chemistry. The cycle can most certainly veer heavily in one direction or another, and it will affect the size of life forms. For example, during the age of dinosaurs, there was much more oxygen in the air than today. This helped allow a massive size not just for reptiles, but all animal life. The opposite is also true. More CO2 in the air allows for larger plant life (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2436/co2-is-making-earth-greenerfor-now/). Is the CO2 Coalition right? Will there be better crop yields because of our carbon dumping behaviors?

For a multitude of reasons, almost certainly not. First off, these changes in the atmosphere usually take hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, giving life the time to adapt to the change in atmosphere by selecting for plant life that best utilizes the increase. What has happened to our atmosphere this time is unprecedentedly sudden and has given life no time for incremental adaptation. That’s not to say there isn’t an immediate effect on plant life now, though. A recent peer-reviewed study showed that various types of rice are experiencing a stark decrease in nutritional content (https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/5/eaaq1012). This may be due to the increase in CO2 causing the rice to grow faster without drawing as much nutrients from the soil, or more likely it is because of the change in temperature and climate. Regardless, rice feeds nations, and a massive decrease in nutrients could mean several million people becoming suddenly malnourished without changing their diets.

It may be worse than that. Another effect of excess CO2 on almost all plant life that use leaves as their primary photosynthetic organ is the thickening of those leaves (https://phys.org/news/2018-10-high-co2-thicken-worsen-climate.html). Studies like these are likely the core of the CO2 Coalitions ridiculous claims of how the Earth will just naturally solve our problems, but the reality is that thicker leaves are worse at carbon fixation. That is, thick leaves absorb less carbon than the equivalent mass of thinner leaves because thick leaves have less surface area. Plant life is our primary carbon sink, and if they suddenly become less efficient at carbon fixation it may exacerbate the rate of climate change.

Here in Minnesota, we’re experiencing new weather patterns that include torrential rain followed by dry periods. This is rather atypical, and it’s causing soil erosion in our farmers’ fields. Even if the size of produce were to increase ever so slightly, it would not offset the negative impact of having eroded and unusable land. This is also problematic since most crops have a rather narrow period of time they must be planted. Even if the rain isn’t causing serious erosion, farmers can’t plant their seeds in mud and must instead wait for better conditions while hoping the rain doesn’t return. Put simply, short term weather patterns and climate will always have a bigger impact on plant life than the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that means our farmers have much more than just the trade war to contend with.

The CO2 Coalition is a dishonest group of wealthy climate deniers that would rather see the Earth burn than give up one cent of their ill-gotten gains, and they will lie as much as they need to placate us into sealing our own fate. Every time Congress has a real scientist present to speak about the many ill effects of climate change on our natural world, political hacks from this organization and others like it are invited to the table to muddy the water with garbage. Many times real scientists are outnumbered by conservative-think-tank-flunkies in hearings (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/22/republicans-climate-science-deniers-house-congress). This is how corrupt our political system has become. Too many politicians are so addicted to campaign contributions that they will give a loudspeaker to liars and let people die in order to prevent billionaire fossil fuel executives from losing a bit of their money to real world market forces. This is our democracy, and this is our planet. Let’s reclaim it; let’s save it.

Ian Todd