November 24, 2010

Let’s Give Thanks for CO2

Filed under: Adaptation, Agriculture, Plants

As Americans sit down on Thursday and give thanks for the food on their table, hopefully many will say a good word for enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as much of the foodstuff filling their plates will have benefited from the anthropogenically-elevated CO2 levels in the air.

And even if we don’t produce the food ourselves, we contribute to the growth of crops around the world through emissions of CO2 whenever we use energy derived from fossil fuels—a large component of the energy that we use to power our daily lives.

Renown plant researcher Dr. Sylvan Wittwer put it this way in his enlightening book Food, Climate and Carbon Dioxide:

[T]he effects of an enriched CO2 atmosphere on crop productivity, in large measure, are positive, leaving little doubt as to the benefits for global food security. It is, therefore, inappropriate for public discussion of the issue to focus only on the hypothetical dangers of global warming that might result from higher CO2 levels. It is equally important to stress the known benefits….

…The rising level of atmospheric CO2 is a universally free premium, gaining in magnitude with time, on which we can all reckon for the foreseeable future. Direct effects of increasing CO2 on food production and the output of rangelands and forests may be more important than the effects on climate.

So, as the bowls of veggies are being passed around the dinner table, keep in mind that most, if not all, of what you find before you has benefited from an atmosphere enriched in CO2.

In past issues of World Climate Report, we have highlighted CO2’s beneficial effect on many of the items found in your Thanksgiving cornucopia. Here are just a few examples:

Lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots

Peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes



And even spices

And for those wanting a second helping, even more examples of the kinds of positive impacts that CO2 has on food crops and the planets’ plant life in general are contained in the pages of the websites and We invite you to dig in.

Happy Thanksgiving and bon appetit!


Wittwer, S.H., 1995. Food, Climate and Carbon Dioxide. CRC Press, Boca Raton Fla. 236pp.

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