How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Surviving the Perfect Storm
Volume 13, Number 44: 3 November 2010

In introducing their review of food security publications pertinent to the challenge of feeding nine billion people just four decades from now, Godfray et al. (2010) note that "more than one in seven people today still do not have access to sufficient protein and energy from their diet and even more suffer some form of micronutrient malnourishment," citing the FAO (2009); and they write that although "increases in production will have an important part to play" in correcting this problem and keeping it from worsening in the future, they state that mankind "will be constrained by the finite resources provided by the earth's lands, oceans and atmosphere," which set of difficulties they describe at the end of their review as comprising a "perfect storm."

The first question they ask in regard to how we might successfully navigate this highly restricted terrain is: "How can more food be produced sustainably?" They say that the primary solution to food shortages of the past was "to bring more land into agriculture and to exploit new fish stocks," but they note that there is precious little remaining of either of these pristine resources. Thus, they conclude that "the most likely scenario is that more food will need to be produced from the same or less land," because, as they suggest, "we must avoid the temptation to sacrifice further the earth's already hugely depleted biodiversity for easy gains in food production, not only because biodiversity provides many of the public goods upon which mankind relies, but also because we do not have the right to deprive future generations of its economic and cultural benefits." And, we might add, because we should be enlightened enough to realize that we have a moral responsibility to drive no more species to extinction than we have already sent to that sorry state.

So how can these diverse requirements all be met? ... and at one and the same time? A clue comes from Godfray et al.'s statement that "greater water and nutrient use efficiency, as well as tolerance of abiotic stress, are likely to become of increasing importance." And what is there that can bring about all of these changes in mankind's crops? You guessed it: carbon dioxide.

Yes, the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that all of us release to the atmosphere with every breath we exhale fits the bill perfectly. Rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2 increase the photosynthetic prowess of essentially all of earth's plants, while generally reducing the rate at which they simultaneously transfer water from the soil to the air. In addition, more CO2 in the air tends to enhance the efficiency with which plants utilize nutrients in constructing their tissues and producing the edible portions that we and all of earth's animals depend upon for our very existence, as you can read about -- almost interminably -- on our website (check out our Subject Index for a host of related topics), and as you can readily convince yourself is true by perusing our vast Plant Growth Database, which lists the experimentally-derived photosynthetic and biomass production responses of a huge host of different plants to standardized increases in the air's CO2 concentration.

Oh, and by the way, you can also spend a few months reading about all of the scientific studies which, taken in their entirety, pretty much demonstrate that the climatic catastrophes prophesied by the world's climate alarmists to result from anthropogenic CO2 emissions are largely devoid of significant real-world substantiation.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

FAO. 2009. State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy.

Godfray, H.C.J., Beddington, J.R., Crute, I.R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J.F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S.M. and Toulmin, C. 2010. Food security: The challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327: 812-818.