The benefits of carbon dioxide

Global greening may save more lives and forests than warming costs

My Times Column on the surprisingly large benefits of carbon dioxide emissions:

France’s leading television weather forecaster, Philippe Verdier, was taken off air last week for writing that there are “positive consequences” of climate change. Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus of mathematical physics and astrophysics at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, declared last week that the non-climatic effects of carbon dioxide are “enormously beneficial”. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, said in a lecture last week that we should “celebrate carbon dioxide”.

Philippe Verdier，法国电视天气预报员中的佼佼者，因写到气候变化具有“积极效应”而于上周被调离播报岗位。Freeman Dyson，普林斯顿大学高等研究院数学物理学和天体物理学荣休教授，上周称，二氧化碳的非气候影响“极为有益”。Patrick Moore，绿色和平组织创始人之一，在上周的一次讲座中说，我们应该“为二氧化碳而欢庆”。

Are these three prominent but very different people right? Should we at least consider seriously, before we go into a massive international negotiation based on the assumption that carbon dioxide is bad, whether we might be mistaken? Most politicians today consider such a view to be so beyond the pale as to be mad or possibly criminal.

Yet the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions are not even controversial in scientific circles. As Richard Betts of the Met Office tweeted last week, the “CO2 fertilisation effect” — the fact that rising emissions are making plants grow better — is not news and is discussed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The satellite data show that there has been roughly a 14 per cent increase in the amount of green vegetation on the planet since 1982, that this has happened in all ecosystems, but especially in arid tropical areas, and that it is in large part due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

Last week also saw the publication of a comprehensive report on “Carbon Dioxide — the Good News” for the Global Warming Policy Foundation by the independent American scientist Indur Goklany, to which Freeman Dyson wrote the foreword. The report was thoroughly peer-reviewed, as was almost all of the voluminous literature it cited. (Full disclosure: I helped edit the report.)

11 Goklany points out that whereas the benefits of carbon dioxide are huge and here now, the harms are still speculative and almost all in the distant future. There has so far been — as the IPCC confirms — no measurable increase in droughts, floods or storms worldwide, no reversal in the continuing rapid decline in deaths due to insect-borne diseases, and no measurable impacts of the continuing very slow rise in global sea levels.

Goklany指出，二氧化碳的好处不但巨大，而且就在眼前，其害处则仍是推测性的，且几乎全部都只会出现于遥远的未来。迄今为止——如政府间气候变化专门委员所确认的——世界范围内的干旱、洪涝或暴雨并未出现可衡量的增加，虫媒传染病致死病例持续快速减少的现象并未逆转，全球海平面极为缓慢的持续上升也并没有产生可衡量的影响。

In stark terms, Bangladesh is still gaining land from sedimentation in its rivers’ deltas, has suffered no increase in cyclones, but has benefited from reduced malnourishment to the tune of billions of dollars from higher crop yields as a result of carbon dioxide emissions.

[This is the summary from Goklany’s report:

[以下为Goklany报告的总结：

1. This paper addresses the question of whether, and how much, increased carbon dioxide concentrations have benefited the biosphere and humanity by stimulating plant growth, warming the planet and increasing rainfall.

2. 本论文讨论了升高的二氧化碳浓度 是否以及多大程度上，以刺激植物生长、暖化地球、增加雨量的方式，使生物圈和人类受益。

3. Empirical data confirms that the biosphere’s productivity has increased by about 14% since 1982, in large part as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels.

4. 经验数据确认，生物圈的生产率自1982年以来已增加了大约14%，大部分是二氧化碳水平持续上升的结果。

5. Thousands of scientific experiments indicate that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have contributed to increases in crop yields.

6. 数千项科学实验表明，提升大气中二氧化碳浓度，促进了农作物收成增加。

7. These increases in yield are very likely to have reduced the appropriation of land for farming by 11–17% compared with what it would otherwise be, resulting in more land being left wild.

8. 上述收成的增加非常有可能使得用于耕作的土地数量相对于产量未增长时数量减少了11-17%，导致有更多土地被抛荒。

9. Satellite evidence confirms that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations have also resulted in greater productivity of wild terrestrial ecosystems in all vegetation types.

10. 卫星证据确认，持续提升二氧化碳的浓度也在所有植被类型的野生陆地生态系统中导致了生产率提高。

11. Increasing carbon dioxide concentrations have also increased the productivity of many marine ecosystems.

12. 持续提升的二氧化碳浓度也增加了许多海洋生态系统的生产率。

13. In recent decades, trends in climate-sensitive indicators of human and environ- mental wellbeing have improved and continue to do so despite claims that they would deteriorate because of global warming.

14. 最近数十年，人类和环境健康方面的气候敏感指数的变化趋势已经且持续改善，尽管有人宣称它们将会因全球变暖而出现恶化。

15. Compared with the benefits from carbon dioxide on crop and biosphere productivity, the adverse impacts of carbon dioxide – on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, on sea level, vector-borne disease prevalence and human health – have been too small to measure or have been swamped by other factors.

16. 与它在农作物和生物圈生产率上所带来的好处相比，二氧化碳的负面影响——在极端天气发生的频率和强度上，在海平面高度上，在传染病流行与人类健康上——实在太小以至难以测量，或被其他因素所抵消。

17. Models used to influence policy on climate change have overestimated the rate of warming, underestimated direct benefits of carbon dioxide, overestimated the harms from climate change and underestimated human capacity to adapt so as to capture the benefits while reducing the harms.

18. 用于影响气候变化政策的那些模型高估了变暖的速度，低估了二氧化碳的直接好处，高估了气候变化的害处，低估了人类适应变化从而抓住好处同时减少害处的能力。

19. It is very likely that the impact of rising carbon dioxide concentrations is currently net beneficial for both humanity and the biosphere generally. These benefits are real, whereas the costs of warming are uncertain. Halting the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations abruptly would deprive people and the planet of the benefits of carbon dioxide much sooner than they would reduce any costs of warming.]

20. 极有可能的是，对于人类乃至整个生物圈，二氧化碳浓度持续上升的影响时下大体上是一种净收益。这些好处真实可见，而暖化的代价则并不确定。若二氧化碳浓度上升戛然而止，当然可能减少暖化成本，但与此相比，也会更快地剥夺人类和地球自二氧化碳获得的诸多益处。]

It is worth remembering that commercial greenhouses buy carbon dioxide to enhance the growth of plants, so the growth responses are well known — and it’s not until carbon dioxide reaches five times current concentrations that the benefits level out. As Patrick Moore pointed out, those were normal levels for much of earth’s history.

In addition, hundreds of “free-air concentration experiments” have measured how much increased carbon dioxide levels enhance crop yields in open fields. So it is fairly easy to work out how much carbon dioxide emissions are helping world agriculture: by about $140 billion a year, or$3 trillion in total so far. If reparations are to be paid, perhaps farmers should pay coal producers (full disclosure: I’m both).

Actually, this may be an underestimate: experiments show that crops tend to benefit more than weeds (most crops have a more responsive kind of photosynthetic machinery called C3, while weeds mostly have a less responsive kind called C4).

Increased carbon dioxide enhances drought resistance in plants, benefiting dry regions such as the Sahel, which has greened significantly in recent decades. And Goklany calculates that we need 11-17 per cent less land for feeding the world than we would if we had not increased carbon dioxide levels: so emissions have saved — and enhanced the growth of — a lot of rainforest.

[Here’s one weed experiment, as described in Goklany’s report:

[以下为Goklany报告中描述的一项杂草实验：

“A Chinese experiment tested this idea by enriching carbon dioxide levels over plots of rice to almost twice the ambient level. This enhanced the ear weight of the rice by 37.6% while reducing the growth of a common weed, barnyard grass, by 47.9%, because the faster-growing rice shaded the weeds. Figure 1 illustrates the differing responses to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations of rice, a C3 plant, and the green foxtail Setaria viridis, a grass some- times proposed as a genetic model system to study C4 photosynthesis.”]

“一项中国实验检测这个想法，通过在稻田上富集近两倍于周边水平的二氧化碳，将稻穗重量增加了37.6%，同时将稗子（一种普通杂草）的生长抑制了47.9%，因为快速生长的水稻遮挡了杂草。图1显示了不同植物对二氧化碳浓度提高的不同反应，水稻，一种C3植物，另一个则是狗尾草，后者常被当做C4光合作用研究的模式生物。”]

[For instance a study published last week found the following:

[比如，上周发表的一项研究有如下发现：

Since 2012, the researchers have pumped extra CO2 into three of six basketball court-sized rings of 80-year-old bush. This has raised the CO2 concentration in the three plots to about 550 parts per million, up from the ambient level of 400 ppm. Measurements revealed that for each unit of water absorbed, the trees in the CO2-enriched rings reaped 35 per cent more carbon than the trees in the control plots.]

Well, all right, but surely the climate harms will one day outweigh the growth benefits? Not necessarily.

At the moment, impacts from the modest warming we saw in the 1980s and 1990s are also positive: slightly fewer premature deaths, which peak in cold weather more than in hot weather, slightly longer growing seasons and so on.

A paper published last week concludes that if the world does warm significantly, China’s rain systems will shift north, increasing rainfall in the dry north and reducing flooding in the hot south.

Besides, human adaptation means we can capture the benefits and avoid the harms. The IPCC’s forecast warming range includes the possibility that we will still be enjoying net benefits by the end of the century, when the world will (it says) be three to 16 times richer per capita. The fastest way to cut deaths from bad weather today (such as the storm that just battered the Philippines) is to make people richer, not to make weather safer: we have already cut world death rates from droughts, floods and storms by 98 per cent in the past century.

As Goklany demonstrates, the assessments used by policy makers have overestimated warming so far, underestimated the direct benefits of carbon dioxide, overestimated the harms from climate change, and underestimated the human capacity to adapt.

Well, what about the ocean? Here too there’s good news. More carbon dioxide means faster growth rates of photosynthesisers in the sea as well as on land, an effect that is being observed in algae, eelgrasses, corals and especially plankton, such as the abundant creatures known as coccolithophores, whose biomass has increased by 40 per cent in the last two centuries.

[This is what the authors said about coccolithophores:

[作者们如此提到颗石藻：

“Here, we present laboratory evidence that calcification and net primary production in the coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi are significantly increased by high CO2 partial pressures. Field evidence from the deep ocean is consistent with these laboratory conclusions, indicating that over the past 220 years there has been a 40% increase in average coccolith mass. Our findings show that coccolithophores are already responding and will probably continue to respond to rising atmospheric CO2 partial pressures, which has important implications for biogeochemical modeling of future oceans and climate.”]

“我们在此展示的实验室证据表明，由于更高的CO2分压，使得颗石藻物种的郝氏颗石藻的钙化和净初级生产量显著增加。采自深海的野外探查证据也与这种实验室结论一致，它们指明过去220年间，颗石藻种群的重量平均有40%的增长。我们的发现表明，颗石藻已经并且可能继续对持续上升的大气中CO2分压做出反应，这对未来的海洋和气候的生物地球化学建模具有重要含义。”]

That’s not to say coral reefs and fisheries are not in trouble — they are, but because of pollution, overfishing and run-off, not carbon dioxide. The tiny reduction in alkalinity (misleadingly termed “acidification”) caused by dissolved carbon dioxide is potentially negative in the distant future, but has been much exaggerated — as a big review of 372 studies has concluded. One recent experiment with a common Caribbean coral found that rising carbon dioxide levels would have no impact on its ability to build reefs for several centuries, while modest warming would actually help it slightly.

[This is what that meta-analysis concluded from a comprehensive survey of all studies:

[以下是在对所有的研究综述进行统合分析后得出的结论：

“In summary, our analysis shows that marine biota is more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions identifying ocean acidification as a major threat to marine biodiversity (Kleypas et al., 1999; Orr et al., 2005; Raven, 2005; Sponberg, 2007; Zondervan et al., 2001), which may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century. Ocean acidification will enhance growth of marine autotrophs and reduce fertility and metabolic rates, but effects are likely to be minor along the range of pCO2 predicted for the 21st century, and feedbacks between positive responses of autotrophs and pH may further buffer the impacts.”]

“总之，我们的分析显示，与悲观预测将海洋酸化认定为对海洋生物多样性的一种主要威胁相比，海洋生物群更耐酸化。这种威胁不可能是21世纪的一个普遍问题。海洋酸化将加强海洋自养生物的生长，减少生育及代谢率，然而按照对21世纪的pCO2变动范围的预测，其效应很可能是轻微的，并且自养生物的积极响应与ph值之间的反馈机制可能进一步缓冲这种影响。”]

With tens of thousands of activists and bureaucrats heading for a UN conference in Paris next month, there is such vast vested interest now in demonising carbon dioxide that it will be hard to change the world’s mind. Freeman Dyson laments that “scientific colleagues who believe the prevailing dogma about carbon dioxide will not find Goklany’s evidence convincing”, but hopes that a few will try. Amen.

[Dyson went on:

[Dyson接着说：

“That is to me the central mystery of climate science. It is not a scientific mystery but a human mystery. How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?

“对我来说，那就是气候科学的核心谜团。它不是个科学的谜团，而是人类的谜团。究竟是什么导致整整一代科学专家看不到明显的事实？

…Indur Goklany has assembled a massive collection of evidence to demonstrate two facts. First, the non-climatic effects of carbon dioxide are dominant over the climatic effects and are overwhelmingly beneficial. Second, the climatic effects observed in the real world are much less damaging than the effects predicted by the climate models, and have also been frequently beneficial.

……Indur Goklany汇编了巨量证据来证明两个事实。第一，相比其气候效应，二氧化碳的非气候效应要突出得多，而且益处是压倒性的。第二，真实世界中观察到的气候效应，其破坏性大大低于气候模型的预测，而且经常是有利的。

I am hoping that the scientists and politicians who have been blindly demonizing carbon dioxide for 37 years will one day open their eyes and look at the evidence.

Goklany and I do not claim to be infallible. Like the climate-model experts, we have also evolved recently from the culture of the cave-children. Like them, we have inherited our own set of prejudices and blindnesses. Truth emerges when different groups of explorers listen to each other’s stories and correct each other’s mistakes.”]

Goklany和我并不自认绝对正确。跟那些气候模型专家们一样，我们也刚刚从洞穴儿童文化中进化出来。和他们一样，我们也继承了自己那套偏见和盲目。当不同的探索者群体相互倾听彼此的故事，相互纠正彼此的错误时，真相才会浮现。”]

Post-script:

This column produced a lot of commentary. In response to one especially misleading article in the Guardian, Indur Goklany made the following point:

Your correspondent, Mr. Nuccitelli, hasn’t read with sufficient care the GWPF report he is criticizing. Had he done so, he would have known better than to present the figure from the IPCC of estimated crop yields through the year 2109, or repeat Dr. Betts’ claim that studies on crops include CO2 effects, without noting that the vast majority of crop studies did not, in fact, consider CO2 effects. Specifically, the GWPF report (at page 29) notes:

The IPCC AR5 synthesis of modelled estimates of the impact of recent climate trends on yields for major staple crops notes, in a remarkable understatement, that ‘[s]ome included effects of positive carbon dioxide trends…but most did not’ (Ref. 175). In fact, only 2 of 56 studies considered carbon dioxide increases (Ref. 176). For this reason alone the IPCC’s claim that the impacts of global warming to date on agricultural productivity and food security are likely negative is suspect.

IPCC第五次评估报告在综述有关最近气候趋势对主要作物产量之影响的模型估测时，以令人吃惊的轻描淡写口气提出，“其中有些考虑到了二氧化碳增加的影响……但多数则没有”（引用175）。事实上，56项研究中只有2项考虑了二氧化碳的增加（引用176）。仅此一点，IPCC关于迄今为止的全球变暖对农业生产率和食物安全的影响趋于负面的断言，便是很可疑的。

References 175 and 176 (within the quote) both refer to the IPCC AR5 WGII’s chapter 7 (on Food Security and Food Production Systems), page 492, Figure 7–2. Ref. 176 also notes that “Remarkably, according to Figure 7–2, the studies that considered carbon dioxide suggest that the carbon dioxide effect reduces yields.” To put that into plain English, these studies, or their interpretations, are not credible.

Note that the figure on future crop yields presented in Mr. Nutticelli’s article draws from Figure 7-2 referred to in the foregoing.

The GWPF report also notes that impact assessments in general and crop studies in particular:

GWPF报告还一般的，就影响评估，以及特别的，就农作物研究，指出：

1. Employ scenarios that overstate warming rates by anywhere between 2- to 4-fold. Even the IPCC has noted the tendency of models to exaggerate the rate of warming. See pages 24-25 of the GWPF report, and p. 769, Chapter 9, IPCC AR5 WGI. This matters for two reasons. Firstly, the world is unlikely to be as warm as projected by the IPCC’s scenarios. Secondly, the lower the rate of warming, the lower the magnitude of negative impacts.

2. 运用了夸大变暖速度2-4倍的设想场景。甚至连IPCC也已经注意到各类模型夸大变暖速度的倾向。见GWPF报告第24-25页，第769页，第9章及IPCC第五次评估第一工作组部分。这很重要，原因有二。第一，世界不太可能像IPCC设想场景那样温暖。第二，变暖速度越慢，负面影响的程度越低。

3. Do not fully account for technological change that ought to occur between now and 2109 (the date used in your correspondent’s figure), which would reduce the net negative impacts of climate change while simultaneously making it easier to adapt to them.

4. 没有充分考虑到从今至2109年间（贵刊记者的数据中所用日期）肯定会发生的技术变革 ，而这些技术变革将会在减少气候变化净负面影响的同时，使得适应它们变得更容易。

For all these reasons the IPCC’s estimates of future impacts are prone to large overestimates, and the figure presented by your correspondent is suspect, to put it mildly.