How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

Learn how plants respond to higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations

Click to locate material archived on our website by topic

16 April 2015

A recent public letter, "To the Museums of Science and Natural History," demands that museums in the United States accept no charitable donations from companies involved with fossil fuels. The idea that the world can or should abandon fossil fuels is deeply wrong-headed, not just from a scientific perspective, but also from a humanitarian perspective.

For thousands of years only a small fraction of mankind lived well while the rest faced poverty, filth, hunger and disease. That has all changed over the past century and a half, thanks to the use of fossil fuels. The benefits of low-cost and abundant energy from fossil fuels have permitted a standard of living for most of society that exceeds the wildest dreams of past elites. Today China, India and other developing countries are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of deprivation by the greater use of fossil fuels. Despite these clear benefits, a movement has emerged that demonizes fossil fuels and anyone who questions the dogma that a near-term climate catastrophe is upon us. The letter is a good example of the movement's tactics.

Nearly everyone today is instinctively an environmentalist. Most recognize that fossil fuels must be extracted responsibly, minimizing environmental damage from mining and drilling operations, and with due consideration of costs and benefits. Similarly, fossil fuels must be used responsibly, deploying technologies that minimize emissions of real pollutants such as fly ash, carbon monoxide, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. If fully cleansed of such real pollutants, the exhaust from fossil-fuel combustion contains very nearly the same components, and in comparable proportions to those of a baby's breath: a little oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor (H20) and carbon dioxide (CO2). So far the movement has not declared water vapor to be a pollutant, but for several decades it has mounted a vigorous, extensive and expensive propaganda campaign to demonize CO2.

Atmospheric CO2 is beneficial and it is not a pollutant. It is, in fact, the most important food for life on Earth. Without CO2 in the atmosphere our planet would be as dead as Mars. At current CO2 levels of about 400 parts per million, the Earth remains in a CO2 famine compared to levels of 1000 parts per million and higher that have prevailed since the Cambrian period, some 550 million years ago. The world has already shown noticeable "greening" because plants are growing better and more extensively due to the modest increases of atmospheric CO2 seen over the past century.

However, the movement has promoted a multitude of scary scenarios associated with CO2, none of which have come to pass. Why doesn't the letter contain the earlier favored phrase, "global warming?" Most likely because precise satellite measurements have shown there has been no global warming of Earth's atmosphere for nearly 20 years, in stark contrast to the alarming predictions of the movement and deeply flawed computer models, most of which do not predict catastrophe anyway.

Instead of arguments based on science and facts, the movement labels any who question their dogma as "deniers," funded, according to the letter, by "climate-change-denying organizations spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science." The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Orders of magnitude more funding has been given by governments and foundations to organizations and individuals charged with "scientifically" proving the alleged evils of CO2 and inventing ways to cope with it. In 2011 alone, ten large foundations donated $577 million to environmental causes, nearly ten times more than the total funding since 1997 to the so-called "deniers." And that does not count tens of billions of dollars from the government and other foundations. Apparently the movement's scientific case is so weak that they feel threatened by any research that does not support their doctrine.

We applaud support for informative studies of the climate, for example, ocean monitoring programs, satellite instruments, or meteorological networks with high-quality data archives. This work needs no defense from scientific challenges, regardless of the source of funding. The honest scientists responsible for much of this excellent work cannot be blamed for the excesses of the anti-fossil fuel movement. But the signers of the letter include some of the biggest feeders at the climate trough, who benefit from millions of dollars of funding every year for research empires, which, in many cases, stoke a propaganda mill instead of producing real science. In the interests of transparency and intellectual integrity, the signatories of the "To the Museums" letter should have each revealed their annual and cumulative climate funding.

The criterion for valid science has been succinctly stated by physics Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman: "If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn't make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn't make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment it's wrong." Experiments-observations-do not support the movement's alarming scenarios.

We, the undersigned, urge museum managements to reject the exceptionally bad and misguided advice in the letter. Abandoning fossil fuels, aside from the economic impossibility of that proposition, would not help the environment but would likely harm it, and would be profoundly anti-human and immoral. Without the benefits of low-cost and abundant energy from fossil fuels, much of the world's poor today and in the future would be condemned to continued poverty, ignorance and exploitation.

Click here to view a pdf file of the signatories of this letter.

We welcome additional signers, both US and non-US citizens, who are informed about CO2 and climate. If you would like to add your name, please send an email to Include your name and a short affiliation, analogous to that of other signers. Also include a brief paragraph to show that you are familiar with the facts of climate and CO2, either as a scientist, a meteorologist, an engineer, or an informed person with another occupation. We will review this paragraph and add your name to the list if we judge that you base your opinions on knowledge. Neither information from this paragraph, nor your e-mail address, will be made public.