Scientist-like persons hired by the fossil fuel industry have long maintained we should celebrate an ever-increasing level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This gas, a key building block in the photosynthetic process, can enable plants to grow faster and get larger. It’s been called the “CO 2 fertilization effect.” Many crop yields are projected to increase. And bigger woody plants, the reasoning goes, can amass more carbon, thus helping to slow the rate of CO 2 increase in a handy negative-feedback loop.
In other words, they argue that climate change is good for plants, which in turn will help curb climate change. It’s an elegant win-win situation, and environmentalists no longer have to lose sleep over skyrocketing carbon dioxide. However, as with many supposed “truths,” this argument falls apart upon close examination. It’s like in 1981 when former President Ronald Reagan said “Trees cause more air pollution than automobiles do.” He was referring to terpenols (responsible for the pleasant piney-woods aroma in the forest), which can react with auto emissions to form ozone. In the larger picture, trees reduce air pollution of all sorts – and sequester carbon as well – on a colossal scale worldwide. His statement was “true” in a minor, technical sense for a single pollutant, but it was misleading, and for all intents and purposes, false.