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The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide: Estimating the Monetary Benefits of Rising Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Global Food Production


It is clear from the material presented in this report that the modern rise in the air's CO2 content is providing a tremendous economic benefit to global crop production. As Sylvan Wittwer, the father of agricultural research on this topic, so eloquently put it nearly two decades ago:

"The rising level of atmospheric CO2 could be the one global natural resource that is progressively increasing food production and total biological output, in a world of otherwise diminishing natural resources of land, water, energy, minerals, and fertilizer. It is a means of inadvertently increasing the productivity of farming systems and other photosynthetically active ecosystems. The effects know no boundaries and both developing and developed countries are, and will be, sharing equally," for "the rising level of atmospheric CO2 is a universally free premium, gaining in magnitude with time, on which we all can reckon for the foreseeable future" (Wittwer, 1995).

The relationship described above by Wittwer is illustrated below in Figure 8, where data pertaining to atmospheric CO2 emissions, food production, and human population are plotted. Standardized to a value of unity in 1961, each of these datasets has experienced rapid and interlinked growth over the past five decades. Rising global population has led to rising CO2 emissions and rising CO2 emissions have benefited food production.

The very real positive externality of inadvertent atmospheric CO2 enrichment must be considered in all studies examining the SCC; and its observationally-deduced effects must be given premier weighting over the speculative negative externalities presumed to occur in computer model projections of global warming. Until that time, little if any weight should be placed on current SCC calculations.

Figure 8. Global population, CO2 emissions, and food production data over the period 1961-2010, normalized to a value of unity at 1961. A data value of 2, therefore, represents a value that is twice the amount reported in 1961. Food production data represent the total production values of the forty-five crops that supplied 95% of the total world food production over the period 1961-2011, as listed in Table 1.

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