The New York Times published an article claiming unequivocally that “global greening” from carbon dioxide emissions would be “terrible” in the long run.
Times reporter Carl Zimmer wrote on July 30 that “[r]ising carbon dioxide levels are making the world greener” by making plants for efficient and able to thrive where they once struggled, “[b]ut that’s nothing to celebrate,” Zimmer warned.
Zimmer disputes the benefits of global greening touted by global warming “denialists,” interviewing Elliott Campbell, the author of a recent study that found plants grew at a faster rate in the last century than at any point in the last 54,000 years — because of CO2.
But because “denialists” were excited by the results, Zimmer had to write a piece minimizing the benefits human-emitted CO2 could have on plants. A fair point, but not exactly evidence it would be “terrible” for the planet. (RELATED: New York Burned $5 Million On Windmills That Don’t Even Work)
It wasn’t long before former New York Times environmental writer Andrew Revkin called out Zimmer’s claim. Revkin noted that while there are a “[h]ost of questions, for sure, indicating risks as well as benefits,” however “not a single word merits ‘Terrible’ headline word choice.”
Catching up with helpful @carlzimmer look at complexities in global greening from rising CO2. https://t.co/U8GC6fnwgi Host of questions, for sure, indicating risks as well as benefits (a China’s worth of CO2 capture). But not a single word merits “Terrible” headline word choice? pic.twitter.com/BjvgJCnFFR
— Andrew Revkin (@Revkin) August 4, 2018
Former Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore took issue with the substance of Zimmer’s article. Moore is an optimist when it comes to global greening, arguing the world is currently CO2-deficient compared to past geological epochs.
Moore said The Times “has become a bad joke. 800-1200 ppm CO2 is optimal. It has been lower during Pleistocene than any time in Earth history.”
Zimmer claimed that “the ultimate benefit to crops has been small — and it doesn’t explain our modern agricultural revolution.” Fertilizer and seed varieties have had a bigger impact on crop yields, Campbell told Zimmer.
Moore, however, took issue with the claim that CO2 has only provided a “small” benefit to crops, noting the plethora of crops and plants grown in greenhouses were CO2 is pumped in to enhance productivity.
Try to tell a greenhouse grower that the effect of higher CO2 is “small”. They will laugh you out of the room with their 25-80% gain in yield. The @nytimes has become a bad joke. 800-1200 ppm CO2 is optimal. It has been lower during Pleistocene than any time in Earth history.
— Patrick Moore (@EcoSenseNow) August 5, 2018
Zimmer also noted that “a number of studies indicate that plants that grow in extra carbon dioxide often end up containing lower concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen, copper and potassium.”
The reporter also wrote that scientists “estimate that plants remove a quarter of the carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere,” which he said is like “hearing that your chemotherapy is slowing the growth of your tumor by 25 percent.”
But at the end of the article, even Zimmer admits “[t]here’s still a lot that Dr. Campbell and his colleagues don’t understand about global greening. Most importantly, they don’t know how long it will last.”
Does any of that merit the unequivocal claim global greening will be “terrible” for the climate in the long run? Of course not.
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