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President Biden's New CO2 Emission Policy is Anti-Science and the Real Existential Threat to Humanity and Nature

In addressing the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate this past week, President Biden announced a new U.S. energy policy objective to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50% over the next eight-and-a-half years, and a full 100% a decade after that. To accomplish this feat, the President promised to implement a transformative "whole-of-government approach" to change how energy is produced and consumed across all sectors of society.

So why is he doing this? What concern merits such a rapid and dramatic (and costly!) societal shift?

In a nutshell, the President and others like him insist rising emissions of atmospheric CO2 have placed the planet on a no-return trajectory toward climate apocalypse. Without immediate widespread curtailing of energy use and the scaling back CO2 emissions to net-zero, they claim global temperatures will quickly rise to "dangerous" levels and cause a host of warming-induced catastrophes (e.g., heatwaves, drought, floods, super hurricanes, etc.), unleashing the aptly-named "existential threat" of climate change on the world and its inhabitants.

But how accurate is this narrative?

As one who has professionally studied the potential impacts of rising atmospheric CO2 on climate and the biosphere for over three decades now, with absolute sincerity and certainty I can answer it is woefully inaccurate. Rising CO2 is not presently causing, nor will humanity's emissions of this trace gas into the atmosphere ever be sufficient enough to cause, dangerous global warming or any of the ancillary-related climate catastrophes so postulated by the President and others.

But how can I be so sure?

As demonstrated throughout the pages of my organization's Internet journal CO2 Science, over the past quarter-century literally thousands of scientific studies have produced findings that run counter to President Biden's view of the future, revealing quite convincingly that rising atmospheric CO2 emissions will have a much smaller (if not negligible) impact on future climate. More specifically, these studies confirm there is no observational evidence that provides any compelling support for the contention that there is something unusual, unnatural, unprecedented or dangerous about Earth's current warmth (see Is Rising Atmospheric CO2 Causing Dangerous Global Warming?). Neither are there any real-world data confirming that floods, droughts, wildfires or hurricanes are becoming either more frequent or more severe as a result of global warming (see the many links confirming this in our Subject Index on these topics on these pages under the headings of Floods, Drought and Fire). Nor is there any indication that the total mass of Earth's polar ice sheets is on the verge of declining any faster than the proverbial snail's pace at which it has done so in the recent past (see Ice Sheets as a subheading under the topic of Ice). Nor is there any reason to believe that sea levels are about to rise precipitously and inundate the world's coastal lowlands (see the links under Sea Level). Likewise, there is no evidence to support the claims that searing heat waves are killing increasing numbers or percentages of the poor and elderly and drying up precious farmland (see the links under Health Effects (Temperature: Hot vs Cold Weather)), that devastating diseases are spreading to regions previously considered immune to them because of rising temperatures (see the links under Disease), that migrating plants and animals will be unable to move to cooler locations fast enough to avoid extinction (see the links under Extinction), that coral reefs will dissolve into oblivion as the oceans warm and turn acidic (see Coral Reefs), or that anarchy will spread within and among nations as fighting erupts over dwindling water and food supplies (see War and Social Unrest).

Beyond this well-documented absence of imminent climate catastrophism, thousands of additional peer-reviewed scientific journal articles reveal rising atmospheric CO2 is actually benefitting the biosphere, and doing so quite handsomely.

Consider, for example, the fact that atmospheric CO2 is the building block of plant life. It is used by Earth's plants during the process of photosynthesis to construct their tissues and grow. Think of it as the "food" that sustains essentially all plants on the face of the Earth. And, fortunately, the more CO2 plants "eat" or take in from the air, the bigger and better they grow. Consequently, plant growth has been shown to be near-universally enhanced at higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Typically, a 300-ppm increase in the air's CO2 content raises the productivity of most plants by about one-third to one-half (see the thousands of experimental observations we have archived in our Plant Growth Database), which stimulation is generally manifested by an increase in the number of branches and tillers, more and thicker leaves, more extensive root systems, and more flowers and fruit/grain. In addition to inducing such amazing productivity benefits, rising atmospheric CO2 also confers upon plants other important advantages; it increases their water use efficiency, and it helps them better cope with low levels of essential resources such as light, water and nutrients, as well as to endure environmental stresses such as soil salinity, high temperatures and air pollution.

Consequently, in light of the plant productivity gains that result from the aerial fertilization effect of the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2, plus its transpiration-reducing effect that boosts plant water use efficiency, along with its stress-alleviating effect that lessens the negative growth impacts of resource limitations and environmental constraints, the world's vegetation possesses an ideal mix of abilities to reap tremendous growth-related benefits in the years and decades to come. And based on a multitude of real-world observations that future is now -- as evidence from all across the globe indicates that the terrestrial biosphere is already experiencing an incredible stimulation of growth, due in large measure to the approximate 50% (150 ppm) increase in atmospheric CO2 that has occurred since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (see the many links under the heading Biospheric Productivity (Global: The Recent Past) in our Subject Index). In general, a 10% increase in atmospheric CO2 induces an approximate 8% increase in global gross primary productivity (see Cheng et al., 2017).

The implications of the above benefits are enormous, yet they barely scratch the surface of the total direct and indirect benefits humanity and nature have received, and are presently receiving, from activities that produce CO2. It is undeniable, for example, that fossil energy use initiated (and continues to sustain) the Industrial Revolution and the many human and environmental benefits that have emerged therefrom (see The Fortuitous Link Between CO2 Emissions and Economic Growth and CO2 Emissions, Fossil Fuel Use and Human Longevity). Without adequate supplies of low-cost centralized energy, few, if any, of the major technological and innovative advancements of the past two centuries that have enhanced and prolonged human life could have occurred. Additionally, without the increased CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use over the past two centuries, Earth's terrestrial biosphere would be nowhere near as vigorous or productive as it is today. Rather, it would be devoid of the growth-enhancing, water-saving and stress-alleviating benefits it has reaped in managed and unmanaged ecosystems from rising levels of atmospheric CO2 since the Industrial Revolution began.

When considering and accounting for such positive improvements, plus the fact that none of the apocalyptic predictions of climate catastrophe are coming true, it becomes scientifically and morally indefensible to place the nation on a path to implement a transformative whole-government approach to change how energy is produced and consumed across all sectors of society as President Biden has committed to do. It is a policy prescription designed to undo decades, even centuries, of direct and indirect CO2-related benefits. It is destined for failure and is a real existential threat capable of inflicting far more havoc and damage on humanity and nature than it ever intended to prevent.

We live in a time when half the global population experiences some sort of limitation in their access to energy, energy that is needed for the most basic of human needs, including the production of clean water, warmth, and light. One-third of those thus impacted are children. An even greater portion finds its ranks among the poor.

As a society, it is past time to recognize and embrace the truth. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Its increasing concentration only minimally affects Earth's climate, while it offers tremendous benefits to the biosphere. Efforts to regulate and reduce CO2 emissions will hurt far more than they will help.

Craig D. Idso, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change

Posted 26 April 2021