Some who refuse to accept that that heat-trapping carbon pollution poses significant risks to human well-being, not to mention ecosystems and biodiversity, claim that more CO2 will be good for us. Plants will grow more, it will be warmer, and more plants in a warmer climate will absorb more CO2, helping to stem heating.
Is this true?
Huffington post reports on a new study from Northern Arizona University, published in the esteemed journal, Nature, which throws some surprising cold water on to that idea:
The study -- a meta-analysis of dozens of separate studies of soil emissions in variety of ecosystems, including forests, farmland, rice paddies, grasslands and wetlands in North America, Europe and Asia -- found that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide causes soil to release methane and nitrous oxide in amounts significant and sustained enough to reduce the overall cooling effect of increased biomass by nearly 20 percent.
What's going on? Organisms in soil, it seems, thrive on both nitrate and carbon dioxide. These microbes also produce methane and nitrous oxide, which are, respectively, about 25 times and 300 times more effective at trapping heat than even CO2. As humans pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, these organisms pump out more N2O and methane.
The body of literature on this effect suggested that it varied in degree from one ecosystem to another. This variation made it difficult to determine whether, on the whole, its impact on the global climate was significant or merely a wash. Yet the new study provides a clear answer: the effect is significant.
Climate scientist, Ken Caldiera, summed up the implications of this study quite concretely:
"To solve the carbon-climate problem, we need to transform our energy system into one that does not dump its waste into the sky," Caldeira said. "Land plants help. It looks like they won't help quite as much as we thought they would. Clearly, we can't expect nature to solve our problems for us."The bottom line: as much as scientists know about how human activities are heating the ecosystems that sustain civilization as we know it, untold numbers of surprises await us if we continue to mess with the stability of our climate.
Do we really want to find out what's behind those doors?
Or do we want to choose the door that we KNOW what's behind: a clean energy technology revolution that creates exciting new industries, creates millions of new jobs, saves the public $billions per year in health costs of dirty energy-caused air pollution, cuts off the flow of oil money to terrorists, and gives America the morale boost that our economically hurting citizens so badly need?