CO2: Elixir of Life

Elixir of Life?

Yes, ‘Elixir of Life.” Elixir of Life is the label two scientists apply to carbon dioxide. Despite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared it a dangerous air pollutant, the son and father team of Dr. Craig D. Idso and Dr. Sherwood B. Idso, in their book, The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment, unabashedly say just the opposite:

“Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the elixir of life. It is the primary raw material out of which plants construct their tissues, which in turn are the materials out of which animals construct theirs. This knowledge is so well established, in fact, that we humans – and all the rest of the biosphere – are described in the most basic of terms as carbon-based lifeforms.”

Indeed. “Not only are increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 not dangerous to human, animal, or plant health,” writes Jay Lehr, science director of The Heartland Institute, in his review of the book, “they actually benefit earth’s many life forms, counteracting the deleterious effects of real air pollutants.”

The two scientists bring impressive credentials to bear on their admittedly non-conformist declaration.

Dr. Craig D. Idso is the founder and former President of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change and currently serves as Chairman of the Center’s board of directors. He earned his B.S. in Geography from Arizona State University, his M.S. in Agronomy from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and his Ph.D. in Geography from Arizona State University.

Dr. Sherwood B. Idso earned his Bachelor of Physics, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Minnesota. From 1967 – 2001, he served as a Research Physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, and as an Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University in the Departments of Geology, Geography, Botany and Microbiology. He is the author or co-author of over 500 scientific publications.

Unless you’re an avid environmental scientist, though, you may find The Many Benefits of Atmospheric Co2 Enrichment rather boring reading. It’s filled with charts, graphs, and summarized results of scientific studies. But the executive summary version is fascinating.

In sum, the two scientists document 55 ways in which elevated atmospheric CO2 levels benefit the earth’s biosphere. For the reasonably scientific-minded not given to dicyphering science journals for everyday reading, Jay Lehr handily summarized ten of them:

Air Pollution Stress on Plants—As the CO2 content of the air rises, most plants reduce their stomatal apertures, or openings through which they consume carbon dioxide, and thereby reduce the intake of harmful pollutants that might damage their tissue.

Diseases of Plants—Plant diseases are commonly reduced as a result of improved immune systems that result from increased CO2 in the surrounding environment. This has been proven by hundreds of plant studies.

Flowers—Most plants produce more and larger flowers at higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Health Promotion—CO2 enrichment increases the quantity and potency of the many beneficial substances found in the tissue of our food crops which therefore make it onto our dinner tables with more vitamin C and other antioxidants.

Medical Plants—Atmospheric CO2 increases the production of many health-promoting substances in medicinal plants, which have been shown to fight a wide variety of human maladies.

Nitrogen Fixation—Increasing CO2 concentration improves nitrogen fixation by soil bacteria, which leads to increased nitrogen availability in the soil for plants that normally need additional nitrogen provisions.

Photosynthesis—Additional atmospheric CO2 typically increases the photosynthesis rates of nearly all plants.

Soil Erosion—Increased CO2 enables all plants to extract more moisture from their surroundings; as a result, plants expand their root systems and significantly stabilize soil, thus protecting it from erosion.

Transpiration—Plants take in CO2 from open pores, called stomata, through which moisture also exits the plant. With increased CO2 in the air, plants do not need to keep these pores open very long to capture the needed CO2, and thus less water is lost through evaporation, a process called transpiration.

Water Stress—When plants are growing under less-than-optimal soil water availability, higher atmospheric CO2 dramatically improves the plants’ chances for survival and healthy growth.

Cool, huh?

Spring is unfolding into summer. As a carbon-based lifeform, I invite you to join me in enjoying the richness of biological life and spreading the word about this wrongly maligned elixir of life.