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According to a recent op-ed on the Wall Street Journal, rising CO2 levels are the best thing to happen to the planet since the Big Bang. The column was written by Harrison Schmidt, a former astronaut and adjunct professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and William Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton University. In it, they claim that increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere will result in increased agricultural productivity. But mainstream science of course says this is a bunch of hooey.
Media critics have taken Schmidt and Happer to task for their naive view on climate science. The rise in CO2 levels and the resulting global warming are extremely dangerous and are likely to result in “a massive disruption on the planet’s ecosphere on a colossal scale,” writes Phil Plait in Slate, and it will lead to “multiple, simultaneous catastrophes for humanity,” according to Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review.
One of the major fallacies of Schmidt’s and Happer’s argument is that it fails to address the fact that plants require just the right mix of elements to thrive. “A rise in CO2 levels is not the only consequence of climate change, and it is these other effects that have had and will have more abiding adverse effects on plant growth around the world,” says Mariana Ashley of Skeptical Science. So while an increase of CO2 may help some plants, it will hurt the world’s existing ecosystem in so many ways, it would be the equivalent of “ignoring that you killed a patient while curing their hangnail,” says Plait.
Another gaping hole in the Schmidt and Happer argument is the alarming rate at which CO2 levels are rising. It is true that CO2 levels were higher in prehistoric times, but those increases occurred over millennia, giving organisms a chance to adapt and evolve accordingly. Our current increase of CO2 is happening over only a century. “Solid research done over the past few years have shown that the current rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is entirely unprecedented over at least the past 11,000 years (and almost certainly much further back than that). We’re about to blow the record (of past CO2 levels) like a rocket, and we’ve done it in a mere century,” writes Plait. So instead of being great for plants, like Schmidt and Happer claim, the rapid rate of rising CO2 levels is likely to lead 20-30 percent extinction rates in plant and animal species, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.