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Even cornier

27 Mar 2019 | Science Notes

Harvard researchers, Science Daily reports, suggest the boom in corn production in the United States since the mid-20th century may owe a good deal to a warming climate as well as to improved farming technology. Of course the study goes on to warn that further warming might be bad. But it’s a welcome break from the steady drumbeat of stories saying even mild warming only benefits ugly or destructive species.

It is astounding how the popular press manages to print endless stories about how climate change will cause only horrible species to proliferate, from rats to “cockroaches of the ocean” to bigger, itchier poison ivy, and kill off everything you’d want to have about, from polar bears to coral reefs to food crops. It’s especially odd since everyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the topic knows greenhouse owners keep their installations warm and pump in CO2 to help plants grow.

For that reason it’s also not surprising that satellite data shows a considerable greening of the Earth over the last few decades. Politicians may label CO2 “pollution” but plants call it “food”. (Among other things, the more CO2 there is in the air, the fewer holes or “stomata” plants need in their leaves to absorb it, which means they lose less water, a crucial factor in thriving in arid regions and preventing or reversing desertification though somebody edited the relevant Wikipedia entry to make it sound as though plants are shutting down stomata to hide from all that nasty CO2 in ways that will soon prevent them from regulating transpiration properly).

One could concede this trend while insisting that the future looks ominous as the stuff builds up. But just as alarmists won’t concede any problems with alternative energy, they won’t concede any benefits to warming. There’s a powerful utopian tendency in the radical mind, to believe all utilities can be maximized simultaneously and, indeed, only simultaneously. Look no further than the name “Greenpeace”. But the real world is messier than that. And sometimes warmth helps corn grow exactly the way you’d expect it to.

One comment on “Even cornier”

  1. Plants seem to have adapted (millions of years ago) to an atmosphere richer in CO2. Now they are under stress because the natural sequestration of CO2 over geological time has impoverished their environment.

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