Some white-coated clowns are engineering E. coli to live on CO2 instead of the old-style sugar or other carbs. As Charles Rotter asks on “Watts Up With That?”, “What could go wrong?” What indeed? Well, the plan could fail. Or it could succeed, the germs could get loose and eat all the CO2 and the plants would all die and so would we because some arrogant fools thought they could fix the silly old Earth and wrecked it instead. Have they not read Frankenstein?
The dogma that CO2 is the control knob on global temperature and that there’s too much of it is, we have often argued, unsound. But if it’s true, a question too rarely asked of alarmists is “OK, if it’s ‘too hot’ now because there’s ‘too much CO2’ and you really could set the thermostat at any level you liked by tweaking CO2, what temperature would you pick?” Was 1950 the perfect year? 1850? 1250? 49 BC?
Important as it is, that question now pales beside this one: What if you found a way to reduce CO2 but could not control it and it went too far?
To address that question requires reflecting on another one: How much CO2 is too little? To hear the “carbon pollution” crowd talk the answer would be zero. After all, it’s the answer to how much lead pollution you want in your drinking water, how much NOx pollution you want coming out of your tailpipe and so on. But in this case the answer is not zero because CO2 is as vital for plants as oxygen is for animals.
In fact we know the firm, genuine-catastrophe-not-imaginary-one answer to the question how much CO2 would certainly be too little. It’s 150 ppm. At that level most plants, those that use C3 photosynthesis, will die. And when they go, we go. Even if some newer plants, most notably corn, use more CO2-efficient C4 photosynthesis, having evolved as the CO2 famine was becoming acute.
Yes, CO2 famine. Levels of this vital nutrient have been dropping steadily, if not evenly, for practically the entire time there’s been life on Earth. And during the last glaciation, as the cooling oceans sucked it out of the air, levels apparently fell to just 180 ppm before rebounding slightly. That decline took us perilously close to levels that really would make the Earth uninhabitable, something “too much” CO2 seems incapable of doing given its levels of thousands of parts per million in the lush world of the vast dinosaurs.
As we’ve noted before, the recent increase has led to a hugely beneficial “greening” of the planet that alarmists seem to find revolting or irrelevant. But should CO2 fall only slightly lower in the next interglacial than the last, the desertification process will not reverse when the Earth warms again.
So now scientists are looking for ways to drive it down in that direction even before the next significant cooling. Are they mad?
As to why CO2 has been declining ever since the appearance of complex multi-celled organisms, Greenpeace co-founder and self-described “Sensible Environmentalist” Patrick Moore has put forward the interesting hypothesis that the critical mechanism is the massive, unstoppable sequestration of carbon, along with calcium, in the shells of marine creatures and then the limestone that forms from them. And it’s a cautionary tale, if he’s right, about having large-scale biological processes that consume atmospheric CO2 and drive the biosphere toward extinction.
If we humans seek to control CO2 levels via, say, mechanical sequestration, or measures that reduce emissions from factories, it’s hard to see it running away on us. If we realize it’s not working, or is working but isn’t a good idea, we can stop. But if you engineer a superbug that devours the stuff and, when we realize it’s too effective we can’t make it stop because it’s gotten out into the ecosystem (and remember, we can’t even stop these things inside our hospitals), what are you going to say? Oops, sorry, my bad, didn’t mean to end civilization and life on Earth? And to think people scared silly of golden rice and other GMOs would welcome this development.
It’s alive! And we’re not. Dang.