Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Is Key to Preventing Mass Starvation
August 28, 2015
Sherwood B. Idso, Craig Idso
Is the human-induced increase in the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration good or bad for Earth and its inhabitants?
Scientists, who base their opinions on real world weather measurements and historical proxy temperature reconstructions, along with the known positive effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment on terrestrial plant growth and development, adamantly say it’s good. Those arguing for a continuing rise in carbon dioxide emissions have the moral high ground on this issue. There is concern among many as the world’s population increases, humanity’s growth will deplete Earth’s resources, creating myriad dangers. The Malthusian question arises once again: Have we reached our limits to growth? For plant life, the answer is clearly no. Literally thousands of experiments have demonstrated that as the air’s carbon dioxide content rises, so too do the growth rates of nearly all plants, leading to a great “greening of Earth,” which shows no signs of declining or even leveling off.
Helping Plants Help Us
Back at the turn of the century, we developed and analyzed a supply-and-demand scenario for food in the year 2050, identifying the needs of the plants that supply 95 percent of the world’s food and projecting historical trends in the productivities of these crops 50 years into the future. Our evaluation included the growth-enhancing effects of carbon dioxide enrichment on these plants and projected yields based on expected future carbon dioxide concentrations. This work revealed the world’s population will likely be 51 percent greater in the year 2050 than it was in 1998, topping 9 billion people, whereas world food production will be only 37 percent greater if we rely solely on anticipated improvements in agricultural technology and expertise. There’s no need to fear, however: The shortfall in farm production can be overcome through the aerial fertilization effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. In order to avoid the unpalatable consequences of widespread hunger and early deaths in the decades ahead it would appear to be absolutely essential the air’s carbon dioxide concentration be allowed to continue to rise. Efforts designed to discourage rising anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are inimical to humanity’s future health and prosperity.
In Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, written by J.S. Wallace, the author wrote the ongoing “massive and inexorable increase in the number of human beings in the world should be recognized for what it is—the most important global change facing mankind.” And why is that? First, the projected increase in the number of people that will exist by the year 2050 is more certain to occur than is any other environmental change currently underway. Second, these extra people will need a huge amount of extra food. Third, it will take an equally significant amount of extra water to grow that extra food. Fourth, there is no extra water. “Over the entire globe, a staggering 67 percent of the future population of the world may experience some water stress,” said Wallace. This could translate into food insufficiency. Wallace concludes we must produce much more food per unit of available water if we’re going to keep up with demand. Fortunately, elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide reduce plant water loss by transpiration, while simultaneously enhancing plant photosynthesis and biomass production, thereby enabling Earth’s vegetation to produce considerably more food per unit of water used. Literally thousands of laboratory and field experiments have demonstrated this.
Beyond Carbon Dioxide Enrichment
A second condition necessary to meet future human food needs will be to develop crops with more efficient photosynthetic processes, which will require a full suite of tools, including breeding, gene transfer, and synthetic biology. Unfortunately, political opposition to bioengineered crops is creating a difficult hurdle to overcome these needed strategies. A third condition necessary to feed the world’s burgeoning human population was identified by David Tillman, et al. in the academic journal Science in 2009. Tillman says the diversion of crops from food to biofuels needs to end. With limited water and limited crops, the conversion of potential food into fuel, while many still live in hunger and Earth’s population is expected to grow, is unconscionable. This is because precious land and water resources are now being used at high rates in the production of biofuels, which diminishes our ability to produce the enormous amounts of extra food we need to feed people now and into the future. This drives up the cost of the foods we currently produce and harms the world’s most impoverished people. Instead of relying on inefficient biofuels and other so-called renewables, we should concentrate on using our great stores of coal, gas, and oil to meet our future fuel needs. These substances are the least expensive energy sources we currently possess, and utilizing them will lower the costs associated with almost all existing, and most future, products and services. Using these resources produces the carbon dioxide needed to expand crop production and improve crop plants’ water use efficiencies. The real world effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment are absolutely essential to our goal of feeding the world’s present and future human populations. And this is the truly moral course we all should be pursuing.
Bio of Dr. Sherwood B. Idso
Dr. Sherwood B. Idso is president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. Prior to 2001 he was a research physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked since 1967. He also was closely associated with Arizona State University over most of this period, serving as an adjunct professor in the Departments of Geology, Geography, and Botany and Microbiology. His Bachelor of Physics, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees are all from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Idso is the author or co-author of more than 500 scientific publications including the books Carbon Dioxide: Friend or Foe? (1982) and Carbon Dioxide and Global Change: Earth in Transition (1989). He served on the editorial board of the international journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology from 1973 to 1993 and since 1993 has served on the editorial board of Environmental and Experimental Botany. Over the course of his career, he has been an invited reviewer of manuscripts for 56 scientific journals and 17 funding agencies, representing an unusually large array of disciplines.
As a result of his early work in the field of remote sensing, Dr. Idso was honored with an Arthur S. Flemming Award, given in recognition of “his innovative research into fundamental aspects of agricultural-climatological interrelationships affecting food production and the identification of achievable research goals whose attainment could significantly aid in assessment and improvement of world food supplies.” This citation continues to express the spirit that animates his current research into the biospheric consequences of the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content.
Dr. Idso was born and raised in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, where he attended and graduated from Knox Elementary School and Lincoln High School. Immediately thereafter, he enrolled in the Physics Department of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology in Minneapolis, from which he graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Physics degree “with distinction.” He immediately shifted gears a bit, moving from the Minneapolis campus to the St. Paul campus, where he began his study of biology while continuing to study mechanical engineering, meteorology, and microclimatology, earning a Master of Science degree two years later and a Ph.D. degree the following year.
In June 1967, Dr. Idso began his 35-year career at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked as a research physicist in its Environmental and Plant Dynamics Research Unit within the purview of the Agriculture Research Service’s National Program for Global Change, with responsibilities to determine the nature and degree of potential global change, to assess the likely impacts of global change on natural and agricultural ecosystems, and to develop strategies for either preventing or adapting to the potential consequences of global change, the scope of which effort was extremely broad, encompassing interrelated physical, chemical, biological, and meteorological processes, with the overall goals of minimizing water losses in agriculture, improving crop water use efficiency, and increasing the global production of food and fiber. Contemporaneously, he also was associated with Arizona State University, serving as an adjunct professor in the Departments of Geology, Geography, and Botany and Microbiology.
As evidence of the success Dr. Idso experienced in these efforts, he was honored at the ten-year point of his employment (1977) as “one of the ten outstanding young men and women in the Federal Service” with an Arthur S. Flemming Award, given in recognition of “his innovative research into fundamental aspects of agricultural-climatological interrelationships affecting food production and the identification of achievable research goals whose attainment could significantly aid in assessment and improvement of world food supplies.”
During this period of his life, Dr. Idso authored 480 publications as part of his official duties and 88 more on his own time, including three influential books on carbon dioxide and global change, the most recent being Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts (2014). Of his publications produced at work, 40 were abstracts, 57 were book reviews, 29 were technical discussions, 27 were symposia presentations, 24 were popular articles, 18 were technical reports, 23 were book chapters, and 262 were refereed scientific journal articles of which Dr. Idso was the senior author of 186.
The esteem that Dr. Idso enjoyed within the scientific community during this period is evident in the fact that he was asked to review grant proposals for 17 funding agencies, books for 45 journals, and manuscripts for 56 journals. Likewise, the impact he had on the scientific community was evident in his science citation record: as of July 2000, Dr. Idso’s research papers had been cited in the scientific literature in excess of 6,500 times, more than an order of magnitude above the norm for all scientists of that time period.
Since becoming president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change in 2001, Dr. Idso continues to work, reviewing and analyzing the scientific publications of other scientists that come to bear upon this important issue.
Dr. Craig D. Idso is the coauthor, with Dr. Robert M. Carter and Dr. S. Fred Singer, of Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) (The Heartland Institute, 2011), and with Dr. Singer of a preceding volume titled Climate Change Reconsidered: The 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) (The Heartland Institute, 2009). He is leading an international panel of scientists that is writing a comprehensive assessment of climate science to be published in 2013.
Dr. Idso is the founder, former president, and currently chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The Center was founded in 1998 as a non-profit public charity dedicated to discovering and disseminating scientific information pertaining to the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment on climate and the biosphere. The Center produces a weekly online newsletter, CO2 Science, and maintains a massive online collection of editorials on and reviews of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles relating to global climate change.
Dr. Idso’s research has appeared many times in peer-reviewed journals, including Geophysical Research Letters, Energy & Environment, Atmospheric Environment, Technology, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Journal of Climate, Environmental and Experimental Botany, Physical Geography, and the Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science.
Dr. Idso is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment (Vales Lake Publishing, LLC, 2011), CO2, Global Warming and Coral Reefs (Vales Lake Publishing, LLC, 2009); Enhanced or Impaired? Human Health in a CO2-Enriched Warmer World (Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, 2003); and The Specter of Species Extinction: Will Global Warming Decimate Earth's Biosphere? (George C. Marshall Institute, 2003). He contributed chapters to McKittrick, R. (Ed.), Critical Topics in Global Warming (Fraser Institute, 2009) and Encyclopedia of Soil Science (Marcel Dekker, 2002).
Dr. Idso received a B.S. in Geography from Arizona State University, an M.S. in Agronomy from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, and a Ph.D. in Geography from Arizona State University, where he also studied as one of a small group of University Graduate Scholars. He was a faculty researcher in the Office of Climatology at Arizona State University and has lectured in Meteorology at Arizona State University.
Dr. Idso is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, Arizona-Nevada Academy of Sciences, Association of American Geographers, Ecological Society of America, and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.