New York Times hysterical over global greening

When the history of global warming hysteria is written in the future, one of the bizarre examples of that delusion will be the New York Times essay of July 31, 2018, “Global Greening Sounds Good, In The Long Run It’s Terrible.”

The article begins with a photograph of a vigorous patch of kudzu, presumably stimulated to threatening, unnatural growth by increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and about to strangle a pine forest. The good news is that the New York Times has finally permitted its readers to hear that the whole world is greening from more atmospheric CO2.

The bad news is that the rest of the article is devoted to demonizing this essential gas, despite the fact that H2O (water) and CO2 are the main building blocks of living things.

As is usual with such “science,” the article begins by vilifying any who mistakenly welcomes a greener Earth. They are labeled as “climate change denialists,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Who denies that climate is changing now, has changed in the past and will continue to change in the future?

The article then launches into a limp attempt to turn good news into bad by claiming that plants growing with CO2 enrichment will lead to widespread malnutrition because crops will have deficiencies of “nutrients such as nitrogen, copper and potassium.” In fact, crops already have these deficiencies, and that is why farmers buy fertilizer, containing nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and if needed, copper, iron, zinc and other trace nutrients. More CO2 will indeed increase the need for fertilizer, but less land will be needed because of higher productivity.

Plants benefit from more CO2 for two main reasons. First, more CO2 allows land plants to use water more efficiently and tolerate greater aridity. This is why global greening is most pronounced in arid areas. Secondly, more CO2 mitigates “photorespiration,” that limits photosynthetic efficiency for most (C3) plants at today’s low CO2 and high oxygen levels.

Continuing the demonization of CO2, the article refers to China as “the biggest global polluter.” Let’s be clear, CO2 is not a “pollutant.” The average human breathes out about 2 pounds of CO2 per day. Over most of geological history, CO2 levels have been much higher than today’s approximately 400 CO2 molecules per million air molecules (ppm). Operators of commercial greenhouses routinely increase CO2 levels to 1000 ppm or more, if they can afford to pay for the CO2.

We should welcome the fact that CO2 has risen to “levels not seen on Earth for millions of years,” even if the “fact” is less certain than you might believe. Plants have been trying to cope with a CO2 famine for millions of years, a famine that is finally ending. With self-assurance worthy of Dr. Pangloss, the article implies that pre-industrial CO2 levels, around 280 ppm, were the “best of all possible worlds.” But 280 ppm is much closer to (sea-level) starvation levels of about 150 ppm, when many plants die, than to the optimum levels for plant growth, which greenhouse operators already know are greater than 1000 ppm.

There is fossil evidence of CO2 starvation at the end of the last ice age, when CO2 levels dropped to below 200 ppm. Even today’s 400 ppm is far too low for optimum plant growth.

The article ends with the silly claim that the “six warmest years on record occurred after 2010.” The alleged record warmings are tenths of a degree or less, comparable to the statistical error. Thermometers have only existed for a few centuries and there are still no reliable networks of thermometers to measure global surface temperatures, although satellite measurements do provide a pretty good global average for the lower atmosphere since the year 1979. There is excellent proxy evidence that Earth’s temperature was warmer than today on several occasions since the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago.

The real news is that more CO2 is already benefiting the world and even more would be better.


About the Author: William Happer, Ph.D.

William Happer, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at Princeton. He has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Awards include an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in 1966, an Alexander von Humboldt Award in 1976, the 1997 Broida Prize and the 1999 Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society, and the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award in 2000.