Wall Street Journal: CO2 Good for Plants. Seriously.

May 10, 2013

It’s not surprising that one of the tweets floating around after this came out was that the WSJ had been bought by the Onion.

Climate deniers Will Happer and Harrison Schmitt embarrassed themselves with a most peculiar piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day extolling the benefits of CO2 for plants. Why they chose to flog this particular dead horse, not sure.  I’ve debunked that myth numerous times, and could have saved them, and the WSJ, some embarrassment.

Seriously – I’m here to help, folks.

For the record, Happer is a physicist, Schmitt a Geologist who went to the moon, and clearly have learned their ag science from climate denial web sites.  I’m old fashioned enough to ask someone who actually has spent a lifetime working with plants and crops at a leading Ag institution about the mainstream view of this matter – I met and interviewed Phil Robertson of Michigan State University last summer, (see relevant clip above) and he recently emailed a pithy synopsis of the CO2-plant issue:

CO2 enrichment experiments in natural vegetation including forests and rangelands (both of which are agricultural as defined by USDA) usually show an initial increase in productivity that quickly comes to a hard stop as nitrogen limitation is expressed, usually within a few years. Same is true for unmanaged ecosystems.

Dr Schmitt has shown himself to be truth-challenged in his previous statements on climate issues, and prone to making allegations that those of us concerned about environment and our children’s future are, well, commies.  The spotlight that this blog and others shone on that kind of crazy cost him a high level job in Arizona State government a couple years ago.

See below for a quick recap of his climate cherry picking.

And finally, here’s the ClimateCrocks take from a couple years back on the whole CO2/Plant canard.

21 Responses to “Wall Street Journal: CO2 Good for Plants. Seriously.”

  1. mrsircharles Says:

    Hotwhopper: “Happer and Schmidt want to flood New York, the home of the Wall St Journal? Happer and Schmidt seem to be wanting to send CO2 shooting up to 3000 ppm, which according to them was the level until the Paleogene – though I’m not sure that’s correct. In any case, with all the ice melted, sea levels would rise by more than 60 meters. Yes, that’s right. (That’s about 200 feet for the metrically-challenged.) About the only plus would be that New Yorkers wouldn’t need to worry about another Sandy.”

  2. […] Denial Crock of the Week: Wall Street Journal: CO2 Good for Plants. Seriously. […]

  3. This is such blatant anti-science doubt and confusion-sowing tactics…for whom do these men work (Happer & Schmidt)? Where is the money trail and how can we address the root of this denial campaign? Who do we need to boycott or speak out against for spreading this stuff?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Happer is well known as director of the Tobacco funded Marshall institute, so his humanitarian credentials are well established.

  4. […] Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Wall Street Journal: CO2 Good for Plants. Seriously. […]

  5. […] It's not surprising that one of the tweets floating around after this came out was that the WSJ had been bought by the Onion. Climate deniers Will Happer and Harrison Schmitt embarrassed themselves…  […]

  6. guylacrosse Says:

    Sounds like another of Forbes foibles on climate change. Those misguided old fools would destroy both our environment and economy if they got their way.

  7. […] Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Wall Street Journal: CO2 Good for Plants. Seriously. […]

  8. My concern with the WSJ article is that it takes the CO2-is-good-for-plant-growth argument a new step by claiming that the to-date CO2 run-up is already bearing fruit in the form of better drought tolerance and water use efficiency among American-grown staple crops, particularly vis-a-vis the Dust Bowl-era droughts. While there is at least anecdotal evidence of better drought tolerance–and I’ve seen it myself in Iowa–the conventional wisdom is that if this is indeed occurring it is not caused by CO2 enrichment but by improvements in genetics and farming technique. Also, not only has the current atmospheric CO2 level not been seen in three million years, but the domestication of staple crops (with the modifications inherent in that process) and the rise of civilization-enabling agriculture arose during this relatively recent low-CO2 (i.e., <400 ppm) period–and not during the age of dinosaurs. Finally, I did not take well to the entire discussion of RuBisCO and photosynthesis as it implies a more robust scientific understanding of the process than is probably warranted.

  9. neilrieck Says:

    First off, if CO2 were good for plants in the way presented by climate deniers, there would be an explosion of plant growth to compensate for the additional amount. This would have the effect of removing excess CO2. But this is not what we see in atmospheric measurements with recent levels peaking up to 400 ppm (the last ice-age ended 11,700 years ago with a CO2 atmospheric value of 280 ppm).

    Secondly, the first stage in photosynthesis involves the photolysis of water which employs a photon to split H2O into H (actually 4H, which is saved for plant chemistry) and O2 (which is released). If there were an explosion of photosynthetic-based life on Earth then you might expect to measure an increase of atmospheric O2. But this is not what we see in atmospheric measurements with Oxygen levels falling continually ever since annual measurements began in 1990.

    Lastly, peer reviewed studies DO exist showing that higher levels of CO2 (in an artificial hot-house environment) can slightly increase in the growth rates of the stalks of some (~ 20%) plant life. This is the place where climate deniers conflate a tiny fact into a huge lie. Also, recalling that virtually no nutrients can be found in plant stalks, then an increase in this type of plant growth would not help the 7-billion (“seven thousand million” for you Brits) members of humanity.

  10. Here’s a reference that’s interesting. There are lots of other references embedded in this document. My take is that there is absolutely NO reason to be certain of anything yet. The WSJ are a bunch of ideological blowhards, as far as I can tell.

    Way more research needs to be done. Some plants will benefit from increased CO2 and warmer temperatures, other plants will experience negative effects.


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