CO2 - The Gift of Life!

Carbon dioxide, AKA – CO2, has gotten a bum rap. The scientifically illiterate, or perhaps the morally corrupt politicians, have sezed upon CO2 as something evil to be controlled or regulated.

 CO2 – what is it? A single atom of carbon and 2 atoms of oxygen, defined as a colorless, ordorless gas, CO2 is actually responsible for all life on earth as we know it.

 Photosynthesis is the process which plants convert sunlight into sugar. The simple equation is :


         6 H2O + 6CO2  (+sunlight) =  C6H12O6 (sugar) + 6O2


[6 molecules of water + 6 molecules of carbon dioxide = 1 molecule of sugar + 6 molecules of oxygen. ]


The energy conversion process whereby sunlight is turned into chemical energy happens because of chlorophyll. All green plant life on earth contains chlorphyll and derives its energy from the sun. Together with carbon dioxide and water, energy is produced for the plant to grow. The process is much more complicated than this and without going onto explain the citric acid or Krebs Cycle, it is enough to understand that CO2 is a life giving molecule.  

 Most of the CO2 on the planet is in the oceans which cover more than 70% of the planet. The most abundant plant in the oceans is blue green algae which forms the basis of much of the food chain of the world. CO2 is taken in and oxygen is released. Cold ocean waters allows CO2 to remain dissolved in water.


 Recent studies have shown increased levels of CO2 to be beneficial to plants and trees. Forest ecologists working for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have discovered that forests around Chesapeake Bay have been growing 2 to 4 times faster. The reason? They suggest the slight increases in atmospheric CO2 may be the reason.

  University of Royal Holloway London.Scientists have revealed that rainforests which existed in what is now the state of Illinois, suffered major setbacks during severe ‘ice ages‘ and were on the brink of extinction. But rocks and fossils show that the rainforests managed to return to their former state once warmer weather returned.

 Dr. Falcon-Lang, from the Royal Holloway London University’s Dept. of Earth Sciences, worked on this study along with Smithsonian Institution and Illinois Geological Survey colleagues. In a paper published by the group in the journal Geology, they explain how the species in the rainforest almost vanished during the ice ages. But they also reveal that after the climate warmed, coal beds formed that contain many rainforest species.

 The debate continues even amongst scientists as to whether or not increased atmospheric CO2 is beneficial but it would seem that Nature is responding by growing plants – trees included – at a slightly faster rate.

 Another group of scientists have noticed that plants are prodicing fewing stomata (small pores typically on the undersides of leaves which control gas exchange.) Fewer stomata have lead some to postulate that fewer stomata are needed as CO2 levels rise and that this will also translate into plants becoming more drought tolerant or xeric.

 CO2 is also the basis on which all life is based as an amino acid acids starts out as a single atom of hydrogen and a molecule of – you guessed it –  carbon dioxide :   HCO2-. The amino acid goes on to combine with carbon and nitrogen to produce proteins – the stuff of life! We are literally made of CO2.

 In our bloodstreams, our bodies maintain a precious level of CO2 (measured as pCO2 or the partial pressure of CO2.) Our kidneys maintain the pH levels in our blood with CO2 in the form of bicarbonate (HCO3.) A small amount of CO2 is dissolved to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). The kidney utilizes these different forms of CO2 to carefully neutralize acids that result in the process of metabolism. These processes go on daily in all animals every day.

 CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere ae negligible. The theory that CO2 is a greenhouse gas remains just that – a theory. First postulated by Dr. Roger Revelle in the late 1950’s, Dr. Revelle went to his grave regretting his ideas about CO2. If he were alive today, he would likely join with others denying CO2 as a “greenhouse gas.” 

 This week (February 2, 2010), atmospheric scientists have now blamed water vapor (i.e. clouds – a “powerful greenhouse gas”) for the lack of global warming.

 To figure out if the airborne fraction of CO2 is in fact increasing, Wolfgang Knorr of the department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol looked through and analyzed atmospheric carbon dioxide and emission data from the past 150 years. He found that there has been no increase in the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide since 1850, or even during the last five decades.

The balance between the airborne and the fraction of absorbed carbon dioxide has stayed nearly the same since 1850. Even with CO2 emissions having risen from some 2 billion tons a year to today’s 35 billion tons a year, new data shows.

This data implies that the ecosystems on Earth are much more capable to absorb CO2 than was previously believed.

These results are in opposite opinion from a large amount of research that anticipated the CO2 absorbing capacity of the ecosystems and oceans to start diminishing as the carbon dioxide emissions rose.

This would lead the greenhouse gas levels to shoot up considerably. But the fact is that the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has only been 0.7 plus/minus 1.4 percent per ten years, found Dr. Wolfgang Knorr at the University of Bristol. This number is pretty much equal to zero.

This work is quite important due to the climate change policy being negotiated at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. These negotiations have been based on projections that factored for the free sinking of CO2 and many researchers are pointing at evidence that the sink is already decreasing.

A change in policy could prove very costly to all countries involved. Doing so by relying on faulty data could have a very negative effect on the economy and general way of life.

The study also resulted in another erroneous estimation of deforestation emissions. Apparently, the rates may have been overestimated by up to 75 percent. These results agree with the ones published in Nature Geoscience in early November by a team led by Guido van der Werf from VU University Amsterdam.

 Today, CO2 remains a scarce gas in the atmosphere with more than 99.962% of the atmosphere NOT CO2. During the Jurassic period, it is thought that atmospheric CO2 was as much as 10 times as high as it is today and yet the dinosaurs (and they were likely warm blooded) lived for millions of years without governmental entities trying to control a scarce and precious  gas.

The  next time someone talks about CO2 or greenhouse gases ask them to give up breathing or perhaps their favorite beer or soft drink. Afterall, each releases CO2. 

 We need to conserve energy. We need to recyle and pollute less. Renewable energy should focus on geothermal – a heat source estimated to last several million more years and less on solar or wind. Solar is inefficient and only works when the sun shines and wind energy is expected to cost more than 300 billion dollars while producing less than 10% of what it costs to produce. And we need to forget about CO2. It simply is not the problem. The United States is only 2.54% of earth’s total land mass and less than 1.1% of the earth’s surface.  CO2 is only .038 of 1% of the atmosphere. Let’s not loose any sleep over CO2.