Given the dogmatic fervor of global warming proponents, and their intolerance of skeptics who dare to question the latest commandment (see: cap-and-trade) in the green scripture, it is perhaps no coincidence that the environmentalist movement sometimes seems to have more in common with theology than with science. If that is true, then the logical word to describe those scientists who have challenged environmental hysteria and extremism is “heretics.” In a series of profiles, Front Page’s Rich Trzupek will spotlight prominent scientists whose “heretical” research, publications, and opinions have helped add a much-needed dose of balance and fact to environmental debates that for too long have been driven by fear mongering and alarmism. In a field that demands political conformity, they defiantly remain the heretics. (For the first part of the series, a profile of Steve Milloy, please click here.) -- The Editors
Like many scientists, Dr. Craig Idso has a problem with the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but his perspective is a bit different. He believes the planet can use more. “As carbon dioxide concentrations rise, we expect plants to be more biodiverse,” Idso said. “We expect a great greening of planet earth.”
Idso is the founder and chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The Center’s website serves a repository of a wide variety of data and information involving greenhouse gases and climate change. Like most skeptics, Idso rejects the notion that mankind’s contribution to the amount greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will significantly affect the earth’s mean temperature, but climate change is not the primary focus of his work. Idso is one of the leading voices in the scientific community to declare that, far from being a problem, today’s concentrations of carbon dioxide are a necessity for a healthy planet.
“At the end of the last ice age, carbon dioxide concentrations were about 180 parts per million,” he explained. “At the beginning of the industrial revolution, it was about 280 parts per million. You’re very close to plant death at those concentrations. The plants are effectively carbon dioxide starved. The current concentration, around 380 parts per million, is much better for plant life.”
In geologic terms, earth is currently enjoying the comforts of an interglacial period, known as the Holocene Period, which began a little over 10,000 years ago. Interglacials, which occur roughly every 100,000 years, are relatively warm respites from the more prominent ice ages that dominate recent geologic history. No scientist – not even the most ardent alarmist – disputes this fact.
Nor, as Idso’s father Dr. Sherwood Idso points out, is there any doubt in the scientific community that the temperature increase associated with an interglacial period precedes an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations. Ice core data shows this relationship quite clearly and Al Gore’s misrepresentation of this fact, by skewing data in “An Inconvenient Truth” to make it seem that carbon dioxide concentrations have historically caused, rather than followed, temperature changes is one of the more glaring errors in his film.
The core of the alarmists’ claims is that, if left unchecked, increasing carbon dioxide concentrations will magnify this natural warming cycle, with catastrophic consequences to the planet and its eco-systems. In addition to disputing the theory that disastrous warming will, or even can, occur, Craig Idso sees a host of planetary benefits as carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise.
“The major benefit is an increase in productivity,” he said. “We’ve looked at several thousand experiments and, based on that data, a doubling in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will lead to a twenty five to fifty five per cent increase in biomass, or crop yield. And for woody plants, it’s even better. We expect to see a fifty to seventy five percent increase in woody plants. As carbon dioxide concentrations continue to grow, were going to help feed the population of the planet.”
Studies also show that increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduces the amount of water that plants need to grow, an important consideration in those areas of the world where fresh water supplies are scarce. Rising carbon dioxide also helps to minimize the stress on plants, Idso said. For example, a plant can get by with less phosphorous – a vital but sometimes scarce nutrient – when there is more carbon dioxide available.
Idso passion for his area of expertise belies his soft-spoken manner. It’s a passion that is, at least in part, inherited. Dr. Sherwood Idso was one of the first scientists to speak out against popular theories involving disastrous climate change, so his sons grew up immersed in the issue. But it was one particular confrontation, between his father and a certain Senator from the Tennessee that pushed Craig Idso into what has become his life’s work. “What really brought me into the issue was when Al Gore went after my father when [Gore] was in the Senate and he rigged a Senate sub-committee meeting to go after my father and discredit his work,” Idso said.
In addition to serving as chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, Craig Idso is the co-author, along with Dr. Fred Singer, of Climate Change Reconsidered. Published by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), an international panel of nongovernment scientists and scholars who study climate change, the comprehensive report is a compendium of data and analysis that serves as a counterweight to the politically driven reports issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Idso, Singer and their many prominent contributors in the scientific community are gearing up to begin work on their second report, provisionally known as NIPCC-2. Initially, NIPCC-2 will be a living document, with its own website, updated periodically as chapters are developed and data examined. The idea, Idso explained, is to make the report production process entirely transparent so that anyone, no matter their predispositions with regard to global warming, can see, be part of and comment on the process. Given what the world has learned about the way that some of the IPCC data has been developed, such transparency is a breath of fresh air.