President Joe Biden made climate change the centerpiece of his first address to the United Nations. According to him, poverty, civil rights, immigration, COVID-19, and war, are all caused by climate change. It would be nice to have a single identifiable cause for all ills, but carbon dioxide is hardly a bogeyman capable of such mischief. Nothing is. Meanwhile, late-night talk show hosts are hyping climate change on their shows, and we are subjected to TV commercials with obnoxious little kids accusingly asking when adults will fix the problem. Greta Thunberg has taught them well.
Those kids are partly why fearmongering over carbon dioxide is so outrageous. There is simply no reason to cause children to fear the future over carbon dioxide other than to achieve some ulterior goal, such as fomenting envy and worldwide economic redistribution. “No reason,” you wonder? Yeah. No reason. Let me explain.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absolutely essential for plant and animal life to survive. As we all learned in elementary school science, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Animals do the opposite. Herbivore animals eat plants. Carnivores eat herbivores. If all plants die, all animals die, including us. At the current 400 parts per million (400 millionths of a unit), carbon dioxide makes up a tiny fraction of our atmosphere. In percentage terms, it is 0.04% of all the gas in the earth’s atmosphere. According to several sources, plants essentially suffocate when carbon dioxide falls below 0.015% of our atmosphere (150 parts per million).
Look at that difference – 0.025% – between where we are now and where mass extinction of animals and plants would occur. During the last ice age, it’s known that carbon dioxide fell to 180 parts per million or only 0.003% of the atmosphere from mass extinction. Before the industrial age, carbon dioxide had recovered to only 280 parts per million (0.028%) of the atmosphere, mainly by outgassing from the ocean (like a soda getting warm and going flat). Because life stores carbon dioxide, there is no guarantee the next ice age would have seen carbon dioxide stay above a level to prevent mass extinction. By burning fossil fuels for energy and limestone for cement, we are saving life on this planet, not destroying it.
And there is ample evidence that the earth’s plant life has benefitted from more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A study published in Nature Climate Change in 2016, and updated by NASA in 2019, shows that there has been an increase in vegetation across the globe twice the size of the continental United States over the past 35 years. Deep breath, carbon dioxide fearers; plants breathe through openings in leaves called stomata, and with a higher carbon dioxide concentration, fewer stomata are required. This prevents moisture loss, so plants can thrive in arid conditions that would have killed them before. So the idea that more carbon dioxide will lead to crop loss and mass starvation is either badly mistaken or an outright lie.
In fact, the earth’s climate changes for a variety of poorly understood reasons, including ocean cycles, volcanism, the earth’s orbit, and the interplay of sun activity, solar wind, cosmic rays, and cloud formation. The earth has been warming, with some extended cold spells and a great deal of short-term fluctuation, for 20,000 years. The latest warming period might well have occurred independently of anything mankind can do or has done. Climate models – the global warming crowd’s only quasi-real evidence – build in what are now known to be exaggerated feedback effects in which tiny additional amounts of carbon dioxide effectively cause tons of water vapor – by far, the dominant greenhouse gas – to be absorbed into the atmosphere. Those models have proven poor predictors of the earth’s climate.
None of this suggests that humanity cannot cause real problems for earth’s ability to sustain us. But the “science is settled” crowd clearly knows less than they let on, and there’s more than enough reason to question their conclusions, as well as their motives. With some humility and honesty, we can plot a more realistic and beneficial path going forward.
• Byron Scholmach Ph.D. is the Director of the 1889 Institute. He has been working in education policy for more than 25 years. His research has appeared in National Review Online, The Hill, and he has made dozens of radio and TV appearances. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org