I Knew Your Breath was Polluting, But I Blamed it on Garlic!

But it turns out, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you are polluting by exhaling carbon dioxide! And the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs EPA, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-1120.pdf, permits the EPA to call carbon dioxide a pollutant, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html.

Although any significant government regulations and controls regarding carbon dioxide are unlikely to result from all this to-and-fro-ing by the powerful adherents of both sides of the argument, one must wonder, “How in the world did we get this far?” 

First, some reminders of what carbon dioxide is/does:


We exhale CO2 with every breath. (I will use CO2 from now on for carbon dioxide. It’s much easier to type.)

CDIAC is the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is funded by the DOE Climate Change Research Division of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. They calculate the average human breathes out 2.2 pounds of CO2 a day, or nearly a half ton a year. Other calculations range to 1155 pounds per year per human. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/pns/faq.html is their web site. Another good site for CO2 information is http://www.nationmaster.com/index.php.

The world population (census bureau estimate, 12/2010) is 6, 884,000 000. 800×6.9e9 = 5.52e12 pounds of CO2 breathed out by humans every year. That is 2.76e9 tons or 2.76 billion tons a year! And added to that must be all the the exhaled CO2 from the world’s other mammals.

CO2 – Fertilizer For Plants:

Below is an interesting set of plant-CO2 statistics I got from the blog of Matt Ridley, the well-known English writer of science books, http://www.rationaloptimist.com/. He obtained most of the data from the CO2 Science site, http://www.co2science.org/.

(A reminder: 300 ppm, or parts per million, means that the atmosphere has 0.0003 molecules of CO2 for every molecule of air (mostly nitrogen, about 80% and oxygen about 18%) or 0.03% of the atmosphere is now estimated to be CO2.)

“Here’s a sum I (Matt Ridley) just did.

In 2070, population will probably have grown to about 9.0 billion — an increase of 31%.

CO2 levels will probably have increased to nearly 700 ppm — an increase of about 300ppm (from today).

There have now been 235 studies of what happens to wheat yields when you increase CO2 levels by 300ppm.

Answer: Yields increase by 32.1% +/- 1.8% (standard error – SE).

There have now been 182 studies of what happens to rice yields when you increase CO2 levels by 300ppm.

Answer: Yields increase by 34.4% +/-1.8% (SE)

There have now been 179 studies of what happens to soybean yields when you increase CO2 levels by 300ppm.

Answer: Yields increase by 46.5% +/- 2.8% (SE).

There have now been 20 studies of what happens to maize (corn) yields when you increase CO2 levels by 300ppm.

Answer: Yields increase by 21.3% +/- 4.9% (SE).

These meta-analyses comes from the excellent CO2 Science website.

These are the four biggest crops in terms of calories.

Therefore the quantity of calories produced to feed people will — other things being equal — keep pace with the growth of population, entirely because of CO2 emissions. (That’s why commercial greenhouses often use CO2-enriched air.)

Of course, there are lots of reasons people don’t believe these yield increases would be achieved — chiefly because CO2 is not always the limiting factor — but the potential is there.  And remember these calculations do not even take into account the longer growing seasons caused by greater warmth or the higher yields caused by more rainfall. Also a plant growing in a higher CO2 air loses less water to the air because it does not have to open as many stomata”.

I’ll have much more on CO2, Global Warming, etc, etc, in future posts, but for now I leave you with these thoughts. Do you ever believe the weather forecast for anytime over a week? And yet some scientists expect us to accept without question that the earth’s average temperature will rise by about 3-7 degrees in 100 years. Now that’s a “really long-term forecast” and for such a chaotic system as global weather.


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