Veggie or Carnivore? – Red Meat for Debate

May 16, 2012

NYTimes: 

Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling.

A couple of years later, however, it was suggested that the number was too small. Two environmental specialists for the World Bank, Robert Goodland (the bank’s former lead environmental adviser) and Jeff Anhang, claimed, in an article in World Watch, that the number was more like 51 percent. It’s been suggested that that number is extreme, but the men stand by it, as Mr. Goodland wrote to me this week: “All that greenhouse gas isn’t emitted directly by animals.  ”But according to the most widely-used rules of counting greenhouse gases, indirect emissions should be counted when they are large and when something can be done to mitigate or reduce them.”

The exact number doesn’t matter. What does is that few people take the role of livestock in producing greenhouse gases seriously enough. Even most climate change experts focus on new forms of energy — which cannot possibly be effective quickly enough or produced on a broad enough scale to avert what may be the coming catastrophe — and often ignore the much easier fix of adjusting our eating habits.

It’s good that we’re eating somewhat less meat, but it still amounts to something just shy of  a staggering 200 pounds per person per year. And no matter how that number changes domestically, on the world scale there’s troubling movement in the wrong direction. Meat consumption in China is now twice what it is in the United States (in 1978 it was only one-third). We still eat twice as much per capita as the Chinese, but when they catch up they’ll consume more than four times as much as we do.

But the Chinese don’t need to eat like us; we need to eat like them. Or, rather, like they did until recently.

Mother Jones: 

…an acquaintance recently told me she’s joined a meat CSA (wherein you get a butcher box direct from the farm) for “environmental reasons.” No doubt the bucolic pasture where her burgers grow up is a far cry from a Food, Inc.-style feedlot, but aren’t my salads, cage-free egg sandwiches, and veggie burgers always better for the planet than any kind of meat—no matter how responsibly it’s raised?

Not necessarily, says Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist who analyzes the energy payoff and environmental impacts of food production. In general, Eshel says, it’s true that raw veggies are an excellent nutritional bargain: For every 100 calories of energy put into producing conventional beef, from farm to supermarket shelf, you get only six calories back to eat. Compare that with apples, which yield 110 calories, or raw soy: an amazing 415. In terms of greenhouse gases, switching from a diet that includes red meat to a plants-only one is roughly equivalent to trading in your SUV for a Camry.

But a girl can only eat so much roasted kale before she starts craving protein: tofu, veggie burgers, and the (okay, creepy) occasional piece of fakin’ bacon. But coaxing soy into a red-and-white rectangular strip takes work—which is why Eshel believes most veggie burgers are the caloric equivalent of “shooting yourself in the foot.” A 2009 study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology found that while producing a plate of peas requires a fraction of the energy needed to produce the same number of calories of pork, the energy costs of a pea-burger and a pork chop are about equal.

That’s not the only issue with fake meat. Consider the process that keeps your veggie burgers low in fat: The cheapest way to remove fatty soybean oil is with hexane, an EPA-registered air pollutant and suspected neurotoxin. A 2009 study by the Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-farming nonprofit, found that Boca, Morningstar Farms, and Gardenburger (among others) market products made with hexane. The finding was enough to turn Cornucopia researcher Charlotte Vallaeys off of fake meat. “I can’t think of a single meat-alternative product where I could explain how every ingredient is made,” she says. “With a grass-fed burger, well, there’s one ingredient. And with grass-fed burgers I actually might be doing something good for the environment.”

So plant protein is usually the greener choice, as long as it’s not overprocessed. But for the meat we do eat, the best approach is to return to our traditions, says Jim Howell, a senior partner at the Savory Institute, a think tank that promotes ecologically sound grazing practices. Howell points out that the world’s prairies coevolved with herds of herbivores, meaning that cows (and other grazers, like bison) are great grass farmers. While conventional farms rely on oil-based synthetic fertilizers, grazers make their own organic version—their excrement nurtures grasses that grow year-round. Well-managed pastureland also retains topsoil remarkably well—switching from cornfields to pastureland, according to Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, cuts soil erosion by 93 percent.

Yet 71 percent of America’s prairies have been converted to cropland. And more than half of all corn and 98 percent of all soy grown in the United States goes to raise livestock, even though feeding this diet to cows promotes virulent strains (PDF) of E. coli and liver abscesses—which farmers treat with high doses of antibiotics. “So there’s all this land going to feed livestock that aren’t even really evolved to handle that kind of food,” says Howell. “If you made all that land into tall-grass prairie, you’d still have land to grow grains for humans.” You’d also sequester more carbon: A USDA study found that Great Plains pastureland stores 54 percent more CO2 per acre than cropland.

Opposing Views: 

The Las Vegas restaurant famous for its absurdly caloric meals and waitresses in skimpy, nurse outfits felled another patron this week.

Jon Basso, the owner of the Heart Attack Grill told local TV station KVVU that a woman collapsed in his restaurant Saturday night after eating, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. (See a photo of the woman being carted out below.)

It is not yet known whether the fatty food on the Heart Attack menu contributed to the woman’s episode. She is the second person to suffer actual heart problems in the grill this year. In February, a man had to be hospitalized after downing a “Triple Bypass Burger.”

Even before this recent health scare, the Heart Attack Grill has been criticized by numerous outside observers for glorifying the unhealthy eating habits at the center of the American obesity epidemic. Basso’s food items include the aforementioned “Triple Bypass Burger” and the “Flatliner” fries. People who weigh in at over 350 pounds eat free.

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58 Responses to “Veggie or Carnivore? – Red Meat for Debate”

  1. Martin Lack Says:

    As with many other things, the argument for vegetarianism will not be found in the Bible – it resides within the Second Law of Thermodynamics; the concept of Entropy; and the reality that ever-increasing numbers of humans will not have enough farmland to be able to afford the luxury of feeding crops to two- or four-legged chemical energy concentrators… Meat may well taste real good; but the chemical and physical realities of our predicament is such that we may well have to re-educate out taste buds… There indeed is something for all those that like to deny the reality of environmental problems to ruminate on!

    However, anyone tempted to point out that GHG emissions from animals may well be 10 times greater than those from aircfaft should take note that GHG emissions direct into the upper atmosphere are 2 to 4 times greater than those elsewhere:
    http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/climate-change/science/climate-change-basics/air-travel-and-climate-change/

    • Tyson Adams Says:

      Martin, I’m afraid this is a common myth pedaled by animal activitists.

      I wrote an article addressing this misconception.
      http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/525/can-we-grow-enough-crops-to-feed-all-people-on-earth/7594#7594
      As a crop scientist I find the arguments made for vegetarianism really flawed. They completely misunderstand the suitability of soils to cropping, the ability to increase production to replace animal grazing is hugely overstated, and feed conversion and caloric digestibility is almost never mentioned for the animals and humans.

      If you want to be vegetarian, fine, but justifying it with environmental benefits is just rubbish.

      • Martin Lack Says:

        I am not a vegetarian, Tyson. I am just a realist who accepts – as does the Pentagon – that we face many challenges; including being able to feed ever-increasing numbers of people using ever-fewer acres of fertile land. If you believe hydroponics will be our saviour: I am afraid I think you have been seduced by The Enlightenment tradition that man is greater than nature (and can conquer it) rather than merely a part of it (and therefore dependent upon it for survival).

        • Tyson Adams Says:

          No, quite the opposite. My job is to make sure we can feed the world. Only a small ask, I know :D

          Anyway, there are heaps of options that are being looked into. Green buildings are one option that could be great (disease is likely to be a huge issue there). But there are plenty of broadacre needs that will be needed, as horticulture will only replace a small proportion of our food. Our stables (grains, meat, fibre) still require large areas of production.

          Where I currently work (Dryland Research Institute) we have several new facilities to explore options for crops, especially drought and frost tolerance, and fodder plants. The new GM facility offers great techniques for gene identification for both conventional and GM breeding. The one that has me excited is the identification of the response signals that allow cereals to deal with dry conditions.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Clearly, you accept the reality that the climate is changing; hopefully you would even accept that human activity is the main cause.

            However, either way, yours is an unquestionably worthwhile vocation; and I would not want you to stop.

            Good luck; we’re gonna need it.

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            No doubts here! I can show you some fascinating rainfall data from my area that can only be explained with AGW.

            Working on feeding the world is going to be a real challenge, so thanks for the well wishes!

          • Martin Lack Says:

            You are very lucky to have such a clear focus on how your expertise can be put to good use. I just hope the multi-national corporations – whose only interest is profit – do not corrupt your altruism.

          • daveburton Says:

            One of the greatest boons leading to agricultural productivity is increased atmospheric CO2. E.g., at 570 ppm CO2, “trees grew 26 percent more than those exposed to normal levels of carbon dioxide.”

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            Incorrect. You cannot compare rainfed conditions to glasshouse and grow chamber experiments.

            Increased CO2 has only minimal positive impacts on plant productivity in the real world. Water and nutrition are still the main limiters and water is our biggest issue with AGW, both evap and rainfall.

          • daveburton Says:

            s/leading to agricultural productivity/leading to improved agricultural productivity/

          • daveburton Says:

            Tyson, please click the link I gave you. That study wasn’t of glasshouse or grow-chamber experiments (though those also confirm the fact).

            CO2 — not water or other nutrition — is the primary limiting factor for plant growth on planet Earth. Why do you think that there’re more than 500x as many O2 molecules in the atmosphere as CO2 molecules? After all, CO2 is by far the more stable & less reactive molecule!

            The answer is that, in the race between plants and animals, the plants won. They’ve tugged the CO2-O2 tug-of-war rope all the way to the end. Animals are relatively scarce, compared to photosynthetic plants, and the plants have used up nearly all the CO2. The animals just can’t produce enough CO2 to keep up.

            That’s why O2 is 21% of the atmosphere, and CO2 is measured in parts-per-million. The shortage of CO2 is the primary limiting factor for plant growth on the Earth.

          • Mike Says:

            Garbage.

            This simplistic “CO2 is the limiting factor because its so rare in the atmosphere” and painting some sort of “plant v animal” evolutionary race picture really demonstrates just how much you don’t know about plant physiology. The fact of the matter is, anything that isn’t available in sufficient amounts becomes a limiting factor to plant growth. Ask any horticulturalist or nuseryman what happens if a plant doesn’t recieve enough N, P, K, Ca, Mg, B, Mb etc etc and see what happens. What you don’t seem to understand is that while plants may show increased drought tolerance in some circumstances (certainly not all), no plants that I know of are capable of coping with increased rates of nitrication associated with climate change or the increasing unavailabilty of other nutrients, particularly phosphorous that comes from the temporary increase in plant growth from increased photosynthesis. In other words, any gains will only be short-lived.
            Now, in a cropping situation, how do we cope with increased CO2 and temperature? We apply more water, more fertiliser, more fungicides, more insecticides, all of which are a positive feedback given the CO2 emitted in producing them,not tomention increase N2O emissions. We also fast track the timing of peak Phosphorous which you may not realise isn’t that far away. Now I’m sure that through all the plant breeding programs we will be able to develop the phenotypes you are talking about and we may be able to keep up but for how long? But more importantly, how are you going to make sure all these fantastic new phenotypes are pollinated given the looming crisis for bees under global warming scenarios? How are you going to ensure natural systems are able to adapt quickly enough to become drought tolerant and require less of the other macro and micronutrients? How are you going to prevent them from being more susceptible to insect attack as is being seen in pine forests across north America? How are you going to prevent then from being more susceptible to fungal pathogens as is being seen in Myrtaceae and Proteaceae families across Australia?
            You see, its not as simple as CO2 is plant food. That kind of simplicity is for kindergartens. Out here in big people land, it is far more complicated.

          • daveburton Says:

            Good grief, Mike. You know so very much that isn’t so.

            Of course anything that isn’t available in sufficient amounts becomes a limiting factor to plant growty locally. But, globally, the single limiting factor to plant growth on planet Earth is the shortage of CO2.

            Additional CO2 does much more than just enable faster plant growth. Through mechanisms like C4 photosynthesis, plentiful respiratory stomata, etc., plants have become very, very good at getting the carbon from the tiny amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, at the cost of other inefficiencies. Higher CO2 levels encourage phenotypes which reduce those other inefficiencies, with results like better drought resistance (via fewer stomata), better nitrogen utilization (read the article about the UofM study!), etc. Higher CO2 levels mean improved crop yields on the same acerage, without the increase in pesticide use that would be necessary to produce an equivalent increase absent higher CO2 availability.

            The warming effect of plausible levels of increased CO2 is small, and benign. The benefits to agriculture of additional CO2 are enormous.

            I realize that it’s Tyson, not you, who wants to help feed the world, but if you want to help the best thing you can do is fight the anti-carbon agenda of the Climate Change Movement.

          • Mike Says:

            “Of course anything that isn’t available in sufficient amounts becomes a limiting factor to plant growty locally. But, globally, the single limiting factor to plant growth on planet Earth is the shortage of CO2.”

            There isn’t a shortage of CO2. You seem to be under the mistaken belief that plants use every bit of CO2 that drifts in through the stomata. Plants have evolved through time and are quite happy to operate at around 280ppm. They use what they are able to at any given time depending on the two major limiting factors, light and water. In the middle of the day when plants are generallyunder water stress, they don’t use allof the available CO2. As for your ‘local’ comment, you do realise that the globe is made up of lots of localities? Lots of localities where the plants have all evolved to operate efficiently at 280ppm and will undergo similar stresses from their actual limiting factors that I already mentioned. Here’s the thing …CO2 isn’t used immediately during photosynthesis. It is stored temporarily in C3 plants, during the Calvin cycle. In C4 plants it is stored in bundle sheath cells and in CAM plants it is stored as Crassulaceaean acid and reconverted back to a 3 carbon molecule at nighttime when the Calvin Cycle kicks in. Increased CO2 means the plant uses less energy. It isn’t a limiting factor.

            “Additional CO2 does much more than just enable faster plant growth. Through mechanisms like C4 photosynthesis, plentiful respiratory stomata, etc., plants have become very, very good at getting the carbon from the tiny amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, at the cost of other inefficiencies. Higher CO2 levels encourage phenotypes which reduce those other inefficiencies,…

            C4 plants make up less than 0.5% of all species. CAM plants which are adapted to arid environments and are even more efficient than C4 plants make up a tinier fraction of all plants. The rest are mostly C3 plants. C3 plants like wheat, barly, rye, soyabean, under hot conditions, dry conditions…the type of conditions predicted by numerous models and already transpiring in many of the food growing areas in the world.. stop photsynthesising and start photorespiring as RUBISCO starts sequestering oxygen instead of carbon making the plant 1/4 as efficient. I guess we’ll just wait for those C3 plants to evolve into C4 plants shall we? What is interesting to note is that many of the controlled studies that do show increased photosynthesis (allbeit temporary) in C3 plants show no benefit in C4 plants like corn.

            “Higher CO2 levels mean improved crop yields on the same acerage, without the increase in pesticide use that would be necessary to produce an equivalent increase absent higher CO2 availability.”

            Are we talkng about increasing yield under non-increased CO2 conditons? I must have missed that part of the discussion. Smells like a bit of a strawman to me. I’m not even going to bother checking because it s amoot point. The fact is CO2 is going upas are temperatures. Numerous studies have demonstrated that insects preferentially choose to feed on plants grown under increased CO2 when offered the choice. Also, having worked for many years as a plant pathologist, I can testify to the temperature sensitivity of many pathogenic fungi. Having performed research on the effectiveness of fungicides on pathogenic fungi under increased temperature regimes I can assure you that many will be appearing in areas previously pathogen free. Its already happening. That will mean increased fungicide use.

            “I realize that it’s Tyson, not you, who wants to help feed the world, but if you want to help the best thing you can do is fight the anti-carbon agenda of the Climate Change Movement.”

            Congratulations on producing the most moronic thing I’ve read today. Your problem is, you read a couple of things from some denier blog and you think that somehow makes you an expert. You have demonstrated you really don’t understand very basic plant physiology. I’m sure Tyson especially, having qualifications in plant science gets tired of facepalming on reading your crap. I know I, as a plant pathologist/ecologist do. The best thing YOU can do is fight the urge to pretend you know anything about what your saying and go and actually get an education so you aren’t speaking from a position of ignorance.

          • daveburton Says:

            Mike wrote, “There isn’t a shortage of CO2. You seem to be under the mistaken belief that plants use every bit of CO2 that drifts in through the stomata… the two major limiting factors [are] light and water.”

            Wrong. If you increase the available CO2, net plant growth goes up everywhere, for nearly all kinds of plants, often dramatically, even where water is in short supply.

            But if you increase the supply of water, the effect can be positive or negative. It varies depending on location. When & where water is in short supply, supplying more water can make the desert bloom, but if there’s already plenty of water you’ll drown the crops, and for aquaculture more water makes no difference at all.

            I don’t know where you live, but perhaps your experience is biased by your location, if you live somewhere that water is in chronically short supply.

            Mike wrote, “I guess we’ll just wait for those C3 plants to evolve into C4 plants shall we?”

            You’ve got it backwards: C3 plants especially benefit from increased CO2 levels.

            Mike wrote, “many of the controlled studies that do show increased photosynthesis (allbeit temporary) in C3 plants show no benefit in C4 plants like corn.”

            1. There’s nothing “temporary” about the improved growth rates of C3 plants with elevated CO2.

            2. Under otherwise-ideal growing conditions, corn benefits less from elevated CO2 than do most other crops, but elevated CO2 still improves drought and cold resistance, even in corn.

            I wrote, “Higher CO2 levels mean improved crop yields on the same acerage, without the increase in pesticide use that would be necessary to produce an equivalent increase absent higher CO2 availability.”

            Mike replied, “Are we talkng about increasing yield under non-increased CO2 conditons? I must have missed that part of the discussion.”

            We’re talking about feeding the world, remember?

            More people require more food. To produce that additional food with stable or lower CO2 levels would require additional acreage, and additional pesticides, compared to what will be required if we can keep CO2 levels high.

            Mike wrote, “The fact is CO2 is going upas are temperatures.”

            CO2 is going up.

            Whether temperatures are going up or not depends on the averaging period, and various other assumptions. It’s warmer now than it was in the chilly 1960s and 1970s, or the frigid LIA, but it is not clear that temperatures are still going up. It hasn’t gotten any warmer on average, since the Clinton Administration.

            Mike wrote, “Numerous studies have demonstrated that insects preferentially choose to feed on plants grown under increased CO2 when offered the choice.”

            So do people. So do cattle. The reason, of course, is that creatures that eat plants prefer to eat big, healthy plants, which is what you get from growing plants under increased CO2.

            Mike wrote, “Also, having worked for many years as a plant pathologist, I can testify to the temperature sensitivity of many pathogenic fungi.”

            Of course. For everything that grows, there are optimal conditions, and suboptimal conditions. For some crop & pest combinations, warmer temperatures are beneficial, and for others detrimental. But for the small temperature shifts that can be expected from increased CO2 levels, the net effect is likely to be near zero.

            However, the direct effect of increased CO2 on agricultural production is highly positive, and for a given level of agricultural production the reduced acreage required under elevated CO2 levels directly and proportionately reduces pesticide requirements.

          • Mike Says:

            Repeating the same canards over and over doesn’t make it true. You have the right to your own opinion but you do not have the right to your own truth.

          • daveburton Says:

            Tell me, Mike: why do you think that there are more than 500 times as many O2 molecules in the atmosphere than CO2 molecules?

          • Mike Says:

            Tell me Dave, how many nuts and bolts are there in the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            Dave, you are continuing to show complete ignorance of this topic of CO2 and plants. A software engineer is not a plant scientist, so maybe your should listen to one instead of arguing with one.

            I can’t help but shake my head at the gross misinformation you are trying to ply upon us. CO2 is not a limiter of plant growth. Water is THE limiter of growth. Then it is nitrogen. This is school biology stuff.

            CO2 is the source of carbon used for photosynthesis. CO2 and transpiration interactions control water use efficiency. Increased CO2 can increase WUE, WHEN WATER AND NUTRIENTS ARE IN ABUNDANCE. But the kicker is that the increased WUE also demands more water. WUE increases can offset some issues of climate change, but they are quickly lost both in season and long term. This is due to the pressure placed on water requirements at periods like anthesis, and changes in temperatures and rainfall distribution patterns.

            I could go on and on, but suffice to say, increased atmospheric CO2 is not a good thing, not even for plants.

            http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-plant-food-advanced.htm

          • daveburton Says:

            Tyson wrote, “Increased CO2 can increase WUE, WHEN WATER AND NUTRIENTS ARE IN ABUNDANCE. But the kicker is that the increased WUE also demands more water.”

            Tyson, that’s not merely wrong, it’s self-contradictory gibberish. Increased water use efficiency (WUE) doesn’t mean that plants demand more water, it means that plants require less water.

            “There have been many studies on the interaction of CO2 and water on plant growth. Under elevated CO2, less water is used to produce each unit of dry matter by reducing stomatal conductance.” Chun, et al, 2010

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            WUE is water use per kilo of production.
            Total water use is TOTAL WATER USE for production.

            Please keep up. I was saying, and this point is extensively discussed in the link, that increasing WUE increases biomass and yield. Increased biomass will generate higher total water use, whilst being more efficient.

            Seriously, stop this cherry picking nonsense. If you want to understand a topic you aren’t familiar with you have to read all the information. Even in the first link you provided you cherry picked one statement whilst ignoring the caveats that were there (the ones I said would be there!!!).

          • daveburton Says:

            Mike, the question of why there’s so much more O2 than CO2 on Earth is very fundamental. If you want to have any hope of understanding a system revolving around CO2 feedbacks, then you need to start by asking and answering that most basic question.

            If you don’t know the answer to the question of why there’s so much more O2 than CO2 on Earth by now, then either you haven’t been reading what I’ve been writing, or you don’t want to know.

            Or maybe you just don’t trust me. To a systems scientist, the answer is pretty obvious, but I realize that a plant pathologist isn’t trained in system science. However, I’ll bet if you try you can find someone besides me with relevant expertise, whom you can ask.

          • Mike Says:

            How silly of me to think a systems scientist would know the answer to how many nuts and bolts there are on the Sydney Harbour Bridge but I’m sure if you ask an engineer who actually helped build it that might be able to tell you.

            Oh you’ve already demonstrated that you can be trusted only to believe your own version of reality despite it being different to the vast majority of those people who actually know what they are talking about. I’ve already written you off as hopeless and so am treating you with the respect you deserve. For the record, there’s only 4 nuts and bolts on the SHB.

          • daveburton Says:

            Sorry, Tyson, you’re still wrong. Quoting Chun, et al, again:

            “Approximately 13–20% and 35% less water was used under the elevated CO2 conditions than under the ambient CO2 conditions, for the water stressed conditions and for the well-watered conditions, respectively. These results suggest that under increased CO2 concentrations as generally predicted in the future, less water will be required for corn plants than at present.”

            That’s for corn, a C4 crop. For C3 crops, the advantages of high CO2 levels are even greater.

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            *sigh* This is like arguing with a child.

            Until you are willing to understand the processes of plant growth, the key factors involved and to acknowledge that CO2 is not in limiting amounts in the atmosphere, but all other requirements are (water, sunlight hours, nutrition, substrate, etc) then this is a pointless discussion. This is especially true when you can’t understand the difference between a glasshouse, growth chamber and irrigation trial (Chun et al. was an irrigation trial) with rainfed conditions under which food production predominately operates.

          • daveburton Says:

            Wow, that’s fewer nuts than there are here at ClimateCrocks! ;-)

          • daveburton Says:

            Tyson wrote, “Until you are willing to… acknowledge that CO2 is not in limiting amounts in the atmosphere, but all other requirements are (water, sunlight hours, nutrition, substrate, etc) then this is a pointless discussion.”

            Demanding that someone will “acknowledge” a false premise before you’ll consider his points is proof only of your unwillingness to learn.

            Please at least show a little bit of curiosity, and ask a few other smart people the must fundamental questions about CO2: Why is there so much O2 and so little CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, when the opposite is true on lifeless planets like Venus and Mars, and what has kept CO2 levels at ppm levels on Earth for so long?

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            That is completely irrelevant to photosynthesis.

            You are being completely ignorant of plant physiology, hence my comment. Until you are willing to understand this process and accept it this discussion is just you displaying ignorance.

          • daveburton Says:

            Tyson, I’m no expert on plant physiology, but I obviously know more about it better than you know about feedback systems, which is far more relevant to understanding the causes and effects of CO2 level changes.

            I ask again, will you please at least show some interest in the most fundamental questions about CO2: Why is there so much O2 and so little CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, when the opposite is true on lifeless planets like Venus and Mars, and what has kept CO2 levels at ppm levels on Earth for so long?

            If you don’t learn the answers to those questions, then you have no hope of understanding the long-term effects of CO2 emissions.

          • Mike Says:

            This is my last response to your nonsense.

            The reason you are not getting a response to your question about why there is so much more O2 than CO2 is because weknow where you are going with it and the cause and effect assertions you will make are so simplistic it will defy belief.

            I will just say that Cooksonia and Glossopteris and their cohort were very very different plants to what we have today and that is why they are no longer with us. Also the process that brought CO2 to where it is was orders of magnitude slower than what we are seeing and what is being projected today. If you think the Earth is going to somehow turn into a green Eutopia then you are sadly mistaken and juvenile in your thought processes. That explains why I and others in here feel like we are talking to a child.

            I strongly suggest you checkout Peter’s latest post about the Dunning/Kruger effect and learn something about yourself.

  2. Martin Lack Says:

    Come off it Dave. This particular line of argument (to stretch a definition) has been debunked so many times on this very website, I cannot believe you have the nerve to repeat the old “CO2 is plant food” meme… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g093lhtpEFo

    • daveburton Says:

      “It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you do know that ain’t so.” —Will Rogers

      What you know, Martin, ain’t so. The fact that that elevated CO2 levels dramatically improve agricultural productivity has been proven by numerous high-quality studies, and documented in numerous peer-reviewed papers.

      • Martin Lack Says:

        All gains are short-term – and soon eclipsed by other detrimental factors such as:
        – the increased frequency of droughts and floods we are now experiencing;
        – the shifting climate zones that will render fertile soils unusable; and
        – the sea level rise and storm surges that will render usable soils unfertile.

        • daveburton Says:

          Wrong on every point, Martin.

          CO2-driven agricultural productivity gains are not merely sustained, they are apt to increase as plant phenotypes adjust.

          Plus, increased CO2 causes plants have increased drought-resistance.

          Plus, there’s no evidence, thus far, of any increase in the frequency or magnitude of severe weather (droughts, storms, etc.), in response to the last ~2/3 century of rising CO2 levels.

          Plus, there’s no evidence that CO2 is causing either significant climate zone shifts or a net reduction in available fertile farmlands.

          Plus, the the last ~2/3 century of rising CO2 levels have caused no increase at all in the rate of sea level rise; e.g., see for yourself how CO2 has (not) affected our (only) GLOSS-LTT tide gauge here in NC:

          http://www.burtonsys.com/climate/8658120_wilmington_2012-05-14t3_plus_CO2.png

          • Martin Lack Says:

            If so, someone must of re-defined the word “wrong” (probably someone like Oolon Colluphid who supposedly got run over crossing the road).

            You obviously missed reading this (and viewing the embedded videos)…
            http://climatecrocks.com/2012/04/25/how-to-talk-to-an-ostrich-todays-co2-is-nothing-special/

          • Tyson Adams Says:

            Dave you are completely wrong and are trying to argue your uninformed opinion with a plant scientist (me). Water is the key limiting factor in plant growth, then nitrogen. Plants have adapted to survive in our past million years of carbon cycles, so 250ppm is fine for plants, as plants are able to concentrate CO2 in the leaves. It isn’t a limiter or promoter, just higher concentrations require less plant energy to respirate.

            If you actually read any of the CO2 studies carefully you will find the caveats section that shows that water and nutrients were held in abundance to test CO2 in isolation. So don’t try and pretend anything else.

          • daveburton Says:

            On Venus and Mars nearly all the oxygen in the atmosphere is in the form of CO2. But on Earth, 99.8% of the oxygen in the atmosphere is in the form of O2, and only 0.04% is in CO2, even though fires and animal respiration are constantly producing CO2 from O2.

            At ground level, there’s an average of about 25 times as many H2O molecules in the air as CO2 molecules. Plants need both, but few plants bother to get the water they need from the air.

            Why do you think those things are true, Tyson? If you believe that H2O rather than CO2 is really the “key limiting factor in plant growth,” then why do you think that, although 21% of the Earth’s atmosphere is O2, CO2 levels are measured in mere parts-per-million? What causes CO2 levels to be so low in the Earth’s atmosphere, when they are so high in the atmospheres of Venus and Mars?

          • daveburton Says:

            Minor correction: it’s more like 97%, not 99.8%, of the atmospheric oxygen is in the form of O2. (I forgot to count the O in H2O.)


  3. Dunning Kruger confirmed. DB is a list of errors. 1 tide gauge proves worldwide ocean levels? Really. Do tell. There’s no evidence of AGW only if you close your eyes. Oh, Tyson and Martin, DB knows everthing about tide gauges and plant science. Or not, no matter. You see, his opinions have all the weight of real science. Cause he said so. ;)By the way Tyson, et al, thanks for the erudite explanations of CO2 effect on plant physiology. BTW, to get real current here, drought is devastating Texas, and over the last few years, spring flooding in the Midwest submerged a lot of crops. Peter documented the freeze in Michigan affecting grapes. We are witnessing the impacts now, not 40 years in the future.

    • Tyson Adams Says:

      Yep. We’re seeing impacts now as well. Dramatic drops in our break of season rains (May and June), reductions in growing season totals, higher temps, and some of our hottest and driest years on record.

      Essentially the climate is changing far faster than we can breed plant adaptations.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Ontario, rest of Great Lakes area affected as well.
      “”This is the worst disaster fruit growers have ever, ever experienced,” Harrow-area orchard owner Keith Wright said Friday. “We’ve been here for generations and I’ve never heard of this happening before.

      “This is unheard of … all fruit growing areas in the Great Lakes area, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York State, Ontario, are all basically wiped out.”

      http://www.windsorstar.com/Freeze+100M+disaster+Ontario+fruit+industry/6571075/story.html

      cut to picture of DB furiously blowing co2 on rotted buds….

      • daveburton Says:

        Quoting from that sam article, “it damaged or wiped out much of the $60-million apple crop and 20 to 30 per cent of Ontario’s $48-million tender fruit crop which includes peaches, cherries, pears, plums and nectarines… the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board… is estimating 20 to 30 per cent of that $48-million crop is done.”

        It’s bad, but 20-30% is not “basically wiped out.”

        I have a prediction: every single year in the future, there will be terrible crop failures do to surprising weather, somewhere, just as there have been every single year in the past.

        And I have a 2nd prediction: every single year, some Climate Movement activist will blame a crop failure on anthropogenic greenhouse gases, without a speck of evidence.

        • Tyson Adams Says:

          Read more carefully, the article refers to multiple areas and damage estimates.

          Also, 20-30% is a pretty major loss. Breakeven crop gross margins for most farmers are likely to be close to that level, so chuck in overheads and they are taking a huge financial hit. Can’t grow a crop if you go out of business.

          • daveburton Says:

            Of course it’s bad. But the quote which Peter selected from the article was plainly wrong, and was contradicted by the rest of the very same article. Fruit tree growers in the region took a severe hit, but 20-30% is not “basically wiped out.”

            Here in NC, I just got some absolutely fantastic peaches and strawberries at the NC Farmers’ Market. The peaches, especially, are incredible. You’ve got to lean over the sink while you eat them, they are so juicy.

          • greenman3610 Says:

            most Americans, including Dave, are pretty far removed from the real world where their food comes from, and in which farmers have to make a living.
            “We’ve been here for generations and I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
            Get used that phrase. We’ll be hearing it more and more often.


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