The Other Side of Carbon Dioxide

by Cate Moore on May 18, 2014

All the alarming reports about rising carbon dioxide levels have led some scientists to start studies of the impact to plants of the impact this will have on their growth and welfare.  The results are starting to come in and scientists are surprised to discover that at least some plants appear to like it.

Let’s take a quick look at plant biology and natural history.

Photosynthesis developed about 2.5 billion years ago in a methane rich atmosphere.  The oxygen produced by the cyanobacteria that first utilized photosynthesis ultimately oxidized the methane into carbon dioxide and water.  This change in the gas mix triggered the first great ice age.

All of this biological activity primarily happened in the sea. About 700 million years ago, plants as we know them began to colonize the land.  As these plants proliferated, they died and rotted, laying down our current coal fields in the carboniferous period.  All of the carbon in our existing coal and oil fields was once part of the atmosphere and plants were responsible for extracting it and locking it away.

Is it therefore unreasonable to believe that plants in a carbon dioxide rich environment will behave like animals in an oxygen rich environment?  Photosynthesis becomes that much easier when you don’t have to work to find those carbon dioxide molecules.

A study by the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative finds redwoods are invigorated and are growing faster than previously recorded.  This prompted Emily Burns, of the Save the Redwoods League to remark that these reports show redwoods should be protected because they help fight climate change. “They bolster our mission to protect redwoods which are responsible for pulling incomparable amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and helps combat global warming.”

This presents one view of plants in a carbon-dioxide rich environment – that of plants flourishing despite the travails of heightened carbon dioxide and a warming climate.

Might there not be another interpretation – that of plants flourishing because of a warmer carbon-dioxide rich environment?  Redwoods are an ancient plant and they may well have originally developed in a warm, wet and carbon-dioxide rich environment.  Should we really be so surprised that recent climate fluctuations signal happy times for them?

“Redwoods Aid Climate Change”
California Game and Fish Volume 2014, Issue #5

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