CO2: It’s plant food

The sky is falling, the weather is unusual, the earth is cooking and world food crops are in peril.

Alarmist global warming reports dominate the news (U.N.: CO2 pollution levels at annual record high). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said “starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease — are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change.”

President Barack Obama has joined the naysayer chorus with his Nov. 1 executive order, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” The order presents a plan to help the country get through “prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours” as well as “an increase in wildfires, severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification and sea-level rise.”

Actually, all these “unusual” weather events are not unusual and have precedents in earlier decades. Tree ring and other research shows the early western U.S. had severe droughts lasting 20 years or longer. This is the eighth year with no Category 3 or stronger hurricane reaching the U.S. mainland. Largely a Category 1 hurricane, Sandy did major damage because we have built so much stuff on flood plains. While 2013 was the quietest Atlantic hurricane season in 50 years, recent Category 4 Typhoon Haiyan in the Pacific reminds us that low-lying regions remain vulnerable to nature’s fury.

People today are living longer and healthier lives than in the million years since Homo sapiens became our dominant ancestor species. And the earth’s air and waters are generally cleaner than they have been for many centuries. However, there is still plenty of environmental work to do.

There are cities like Beijing with major air pollution issues. More than 10 percent of the global population still lacks drinking water. Drug-resistant bacteria flourish from overuse of antibiotics. Our growing numbers and appetites are crowding out other species, especially bees, which are essential for food crop pollination.

But on the whole, human life gradually improves, thanks in part to the dependable and concentrated energy available from fossil fuels, with additional output from nuclear energy and harnessing water, wind and solar energy.

Sea levels have continued to rise since the last glacier melted, but now the rise has slowed to less than a foot per century. And the earth’s warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 18th century has essentially stopped for the past 15 years.

Judith Curry, head of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Marcia Wyatt at the University of Colorado-Boulder, authored a new paper in the journal Climate Dynamics. According to the paper, the pause in warming that began as temperatures leveled off in the late 1990s could extend into the 2030s, and the UN IPCC climate models that predict a hotter Earth are not reliable.

The several hundred years of the Roman Empire to about 500 A.D. were a warm period in climate history. The next few hundred years turned colder until the Medieval Warm Period restarted warming. We call that intervening cold time the Dark Ages, when crops froze and human lives were short and miserable.

When the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is higher, plants become more efficient at pulling the gas out of the air. Faster conversion of carbon dioxide into sugars translates into faster plant growth and more efficient water usage. So it’s OK for the average human to exhale nearly 850 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. It’s mainly plant food.