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Agri & Gardening does rising co2 benefit plants  | Upload General

Does Rising CO2 Benefit Plants?

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by: Sharai Hoekema
does rising co2 benefit plants  | Upload

Although the title of this article might sound like something taken straight from a weird conspiracy theory, it is actually a real debate that is going on right now. The main takeaway? The effect that climate change will have on plant life in general could possibly be more positive than negative. Meaning, there are voices claiming that the positive effects of climate change on plants in general may end up outweighing the negative sides but there is doubt if it is about agricultural plants.

Rising CO2 And Climate Change

This idea of rising CO2 levels actually being good for plants is not that revolutionary, even though it might result in some raised eyebrows. It is not a very popular opinion to proclaim that climate change might actually be a good thing, Climate change sceptics are eager to point at the reasons why we should not cut our emissions. These range from an all-out denial of the urgency of the problem to actually claiming that there are benefits of climate change.

How does CO2 increase plant growth?
Plants extract CO2 from the atmosphere via the plant's stomates, which are the pores that plants ‘breathe’ through. Photosynthesis begins as the plant uses CO2 in combination with light bulbs or light from the sun to produce both sugar and oxygen.


As such, it has been asserted that a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will aid the process of photosynthesis, eventually adding to increased growth of plants. In turn, this could lead to higher food production and better quality food - or so proponents of this theory claim.

Recommended: Agrivoltaics Mutually Beneficial: Food, Water And Energy

CO2 Fertilization Effect

Let’s first find out whether there is an element of truth in this. At the surface, it does indeed seem to hold true. There is something called the CO2 fertilization effect, and it is commonly accepted as a real phenomenon. If you increase the amount of CO2 that plants are exposed to, the process of photosynthesis is increased. Or, at least, this is what happens in a lab setting.
 

Why CO2 is necessary for photosynthesis?
Carbon dioxide is needed for photosynthesis. The lower part of the leaf has loose-fitting cells, to allow carbon dioxide to reach the other cells in the leaf. This also allows the oxygen produced in photosynthesis to leave the leaf easily. Carbon dioxide is present in the air we breathe, at very low concentrations.

The issue is that this effect has not yet been consistently documented in the ‘real’ world, where other factors are at play. Plant growth is a notoriously complex process, influenced by a lot of elements besides CO2. Take nitrogen, for instance, that has the potential to offset the positive influence of this CO2 increase if it happens to be only available in limited supply.

A series of trials on this CO2 fertilization effect has found that, when testing on outdoor forest areas, an artificial doubling of CO2 levels when compared to pre-industrial levels led to an increased productivity of the trees of about 23 percent. Yet in a confirmation of the nitrogen hypothesis, a limitation of nitrogen has led to a significant diminishing of this effect. Or, as one of the scientists involved put it, “we cannot assume the CO2 fertilization effect will persist indefinitely.”



                                                                        Does Rising CO2 Benefit Plants?
                                                                 Is Our Food Becoming Less Nutritious?


This brings us to an important point, being that the effect will not last forever. Rather, there is a certain cap to the productivity boost it may generate, a long-term outlook that many sceptics ignore. In a similar manner, they ignore the fact that the negative consequences of climate change are sizeable. These include drought and heat stress, which will put a great strain on plant life - one that is likely to offset the benefits.

So although the CO2 fertilization effect may be real, one should not overlook the long-term effect and the fact that there are many, many downsides to global warming as well.

Rising CO2 Levels Effects On Agricultural Plants

One specific implication of the fertilization effect is that it may, ultimately, lead to higher food production and a better quality of food. In order to test this statement, scientists have studied the effect of rising CO2 levels on agricultural plants. Once again, the fertilization effect has held up: most crops will benefit from having this extra material in the atmosphere, that will help them grow. This holds true for most of the crops that are a part of our diet, including wheat, rice and soybeans. 

woman harvesting rise by hand

The limitation as imposed by diminishing nitrogen levels is largely irrelevant for agricultural plants, as fertilizer can take over the role of nitrogen and other nutrients if needed. This does, however, not mean that the effect will last indefinitely. Although these plants benefit from rising CO2 levels, they will quickly be saturated - leading to fewer and fewer benefits for the extra CO2 added. 

So, this means that one of the two main caveats of the fertilization effect also holds true in agriculture: the long-term outlook is not nearly as rosy. As for the other caveat, with the drawbacks of global warming outweighing the positive sides, it is not hard to see how this would be applicable for agricultural plants as well, with shortages of water, extreme heat and weather events, and the increase in weeds and pests having a direct and significant impact on crops.

Recommended: Renewable Energy Turns CO2 Into Fuel For Hydrogen Batteries

Rising CO2’s Effect On Crops Could Harm Human Health

Another fact that was found is that food grown under higher CO2 levels is less nutritious. So yeah, productivity may rise in the short term, but this will lead to an output of food of lower quality. In particular, food crops will lose valuable iron, zinc and protein - important nutrients in our daily diet. The levels of CO2 that are predicted to hit our atmosphere mid-century would lead to such a loss of those nutrients that it will cause deficiencies in billions of people.

The reasons as to why the rising CO2 levels cause this drop in nutritional content are still unknown. Knowing that it is the case should, however, suffice as a warning for those who rely on the fertilization effect in choosing not to combat global warming. The public health threats associated with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are dire and not to be underestimated.

Sceptics who are happy to use the argument of the fertilization effect should therefore be warned that there is a much larger downside - and that ultimately, rising CO2 levels do not exclusively benefit plants.

Before you go!

Recommended: Climate Change Efforts On Reducing CO2 Why Not Recycle It?

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Does Rising CO2 Benefit Plants?

Although the title of this article might sound like something taken straight from a weird conspiracy theory, it is actually a real debate that is going on right now. The main takeaway? The effect that climate change will have on plant life in general could possibly be more positive than negative. Meaning, there are voices claiming that the positive effects of climate change on plants in general may end up outweighing the negative sides but there is doubt if it is about agricultural plants. Rising CO2 And Climate Change This idea of rising CO2 levels actually being good for plants is not that revolutionary, even though it might result in some raised eyebrows. It is not a very popular opinion to proclaim that climate change might actually be a good thing, Climate change sceptics are eager to point at the reasons why we should not cut our emissions. These range from an all-out denial of the urgency of the problem to actually claiming that there are benefits of climate change. How does CO2 increase plant growth? Plants extract CO2 from the atmosphere via the plant's stomates, which are the pores that plants ‘breathe’ through. Photosynthesis begins as the plant uses CO2 in combination with light bulbs or light from the sun to produce both sugar and oxygen. As such, it has been asserted that a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will aid the process of photosynthesis, eventually adding to increased growth of plants. In turn, this could lead to higher food production and better quality food - or so proponents of this theory claim. Recommended:  Agrivoltaics Mutually Beneficial: Food, Water And Energy CO2 Fertilization Effect Let’s first find out whether there is an element of truth in this. At the surface, it does indeed seem to hold true. There is something called the CO2 fertilization effect, and it is commonly accepted as a real phenomenon. If you increase the amount of CO2 that plants are exposed to, the process of photosynthesis is increased. Or, at least, this is what happens in a lab setting.   Why CO2 is necessary for photosynthesis? Carbon dioxide is needed for photosynthesis. The lower part of the leaf has loose-fitting cells, to allow carbon dioxide to reach the other cells in the leaf. This also allows the oxygen produced in photosynthesis to leave the leaf easily. Carbon dioxide is present in the air we breathe, at very low concentrations. The issue is that this effect has not yet been consistently documented in the ‘real’ world, where other factors are at play. Plant growth is a notoriously complex process, influenced by a lot of elements besides CO2. Take nitrogen, for instance, that has the potential to offset the positive influence of this CO2 increase if it happens to be only available in limited supply. A series of trials on this CO2 fertilization effect has found that, when testing on outdoor forest areas, an artificial doubling of CO2 levels when compared to pre-industrial levels led to an increased productivity of the trees of about 23 percent. Yet in a confirmation of the nitrogen hypothesis, a limitation of nitrogen has led to a significant diminishing of this effect. Or, as one of the scientists involved put it, “ we cannot assume the CO2 fertilization effect will persist indefinitely .” {youtube}                                                                         Does Rising CO2 Benefit Plants?                                                                  Is Our Food Becoming Less Nutritious? This brings us to an important point, being that the effect will not last forever. Rather, there is a certain cap to the productivity boost it may generate, a long-term outlook that many sceptics ignore. In a similar manner, they ignore the fact that the negative consequences of climate change are sizeable. These include drought and heat stress, which will put a great strain on plant life - one that is likely to offset the benefits. So although the CO2 fertilization effect may be real, one should not overlook the long-term effect and the fact that there are many, many downsides to global warming as well. Rising CO2 Levels Effects On Agricultural Plants One specific implication of the fertilization effect is that it may, ultimately, lead to higher food production and a better quality of food. In order to test this statement, scientists have studied the effect of rising CO2 levels on agricultural plants. Once again, the fertilization effect has held up: most crops will benefit from having this extra material in the atmosphere, that will help them grow. This holds true for most of the crops that are a part of our diet, including wheat, rice and soybeans.   The limitation as imposed by diminishing nitrogen levels is largely irrelevant for agricultural plants, as fertilizer can take over the role of nitrogen and other nutrients if needed. This does, however, not mean that the effect will last indefinitely. Although these plants benefit from rising CO2 levels, they will quickly be saturated - leading to fewer and fewer benefits for the extra CO2 added.   So, this means that one of the two main caveats of the fertilization effect also holds true in agriculture: the long-term outlook is not nearly as rosy. As for the other caveat, with the drawbacks of global warming outweighing the positive sides, it is not hard to see how this would be applicable for agricultural plants as well, with shortages of water, extreme heat and weather events, and the increase in weeds and pests having a direct and significant impact on crops. Recommended:  Renewable Energy Turns CO2 Into Fuel For Hydrogen Batteries Rising CO2’s Effect On Crops Could Harm Human Health Another fact that was found is that food grown under higher CO2 levels is less nutritious. So yeah, productivity may rise in the short term, but this will lead to an output of food of lower quality. In particular, food crops will lose valuable iron, zinc and protein - important nutrients in our daily diet. The levels of CO2 that are predicted to hit our atmosphere mid-century would lead to such a loss of those nutrients that it will cause deficiencies in billions of people. The reasons as to why the rising CO2 levels cause this drop in nutritional content are still unknown. Knowing that it is the case should, however, suffice as a warning for those who rely on the fertilization effect in choosing not to combat global warming. The public health threats associated with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are dire and not to be underestimated. Sceptics who are happy to use the argument of the fertilization effect should therefore be warned that there is a much larger downside - and that ultimately, rising CO2 levels do not exclusively benefit plants. Before you go! Recommended:  Climate Change Efforts On Reducing CO2 Why Not Recycle It? Did you find this an interesting article or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your own article about sustainability? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage'
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