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Cut Carbon Dioxide, Cause Misery

September 11, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #372

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change shows efforts to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 would dramatically reduce the food supply and increase prices, resulting in more hunger and starvation.

The study looks at various efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including growing and burning more crops for energy production, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture (DAC) technologies being tested in Canada and Switzerland to remove carbon dioxide from the air.

To make a significant dent in carbon dioxide emissions, BECCS would use up huge amounts of land and crops otherwise consumed as food, burning them for energy. The impact on food prices would be dramatic, especially for the poorest peoples of the world.

The study found, for instance, “The worst affected areas would be in sub-Saharan Africa which could see prices rise by 500 to 600 percent by 2050. India, Pakistan and many other countries in Asia could see three to five-fold increases, while Europe and South America could see prices double or treble.”

Although widespread adoption of DAC would modestly reduce the amount of land needed to grow crops for BECCS, it would place enormous demands on the world’s energy and water supplies, limiting their availability and thus increasing the prices of both—which will also increase food prices, because energy and water are among the largest inputs for crop production.

The researchers estimate DAC deployment needed to keep future temperatures below the 1.5℃ target of the Paris climate agreement would require “energy equal to 115 percent of current global natural gas consumption,” and the water demanded by these machines alone would equal 35 percent of the water currently used in global electricity production.

With a growing population and large and increasing amounts of land, water, and energy devoted just to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere energy, food, and water prices will rise dramatically, the study finds.

As important as this study’s results may be, as countries consider implementing BECCS and DAC on a large scale to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, it paints only half the picture, ignoring the most important, unintended, but completely predictable negative consequence from such policies: reducing carbon dioxide levels will limit plant growth in general and crop production in particular.

Carbon dioxide is basically plant food, critical for photosynthesis. As explored by CO2Science.org and in the numerous peer-reviewed studies cited in the Climate Change Reconsidered II book series, the increase in carbon dioxide levels over the last half-century has directly contributed to a substantial greening of the Earth, including a huge increase in crop production worldwide. In country after country, for crop after crop, yield records have been repeatedly set and broken, year after year over the past 30 years, as a direct result of increasing CO2.

For example, the online agriculture news service World-Grain.com recently published a story, “IGC projects record output for corn, wheat and soybeans,” highlighting the International Grains Council’s (IGC) findings that it expects the harvest of key cereal crops, corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat—the core staple crops for many peoples around the world—to set records in 2020.

IGC’s August 27 Grain Market Review projects total global grains production will reach 2.230 billion tons during the 2020-2021 marketing year, a 9 percent higher yield than the 2.181 billion tons produced in the previous marketing year.

Climate at a Glance: Crop Yields summarizes U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data documenting the fact that U.S. crop yields and global crop yields are setting records nearly every year as the globe modestly warms. Thanks in large part to longer growing seasons, fewer frost events, more precipitation, and the fertilization effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide, farmers are producing more food on less land, enabling them to feed a growing global population. Almost every important U.S. crop has set record yields per acre during the past three years, with most of the top 10 years in yields per acre occurring during the past decade.

The fact is most plant life arose when carbon-dioxide levels were much higher than they are today. Over time, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere slowly declined, and during the most recent ice age, atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels fell to dangerously low levels, just 180 parts per million (ppm). Plants begin to die when carbon dioxide falls to 150 ppm, because they are unable to use sunlight to photosynthesize food from carbon dioxide and water. After Earth emerged from the previous ice age, carbon-dioxide levels rebounded to approximately 280 ppm, still far below the levels when plant life began to colonize the land.

“From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” an international team of 32 researchers representing 24 institutions in eight countries found.

A May 2018 report by The Heartland Institute, “The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels,” states the “increase in atmospheric [carbon dioxide] concentration … caused by the historical burning of fossil fuels has likely increased agricultural production per unit [of] land area by 70 percent for C3 cereals [which include rice, wheat, oats, cotton, and evergreen trees], 28 percent for C4 cereals [which include sorghum, maize, and various grasses], 33 percent for fruits and melons, 62 percent for legumes, 67 percent for root and tuber crops, and 51 percent for vegetables.”

All of this evidence means implementation of BECCS, DAC, or both will reduce the carbon dioxide available for crops to thrive, decreasing crop yields while food supplies decline and prices increase due to counterproductive efforts to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

The moral of the story is this: you can have more crops, lower food prices, and fewer hungry people and deaths due to starvation, or you can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce little or no reduction in future temperatures, but with current and reasonably expected future technologies, you can’t have both.

—    H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: BBC; Nature Climate Change; Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels; Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts; CO2 Science; The Heartland Institute


IN THIS ISSUE …

ANOTHER STUDY CONFIRMS CLIMATE MODEL TEMPERATURE ERRORS GETTING WORSE … SOLAR ENERGY CREATING TOXIC WASTE PROBLEM … AUSTRALIA’S SOLAR CRAZE UNDERMINES GRID


ANOTHER STUDY CONFIRMS CLIMATE MODEL TEMPERATURE ERRORS GETTING WORSE

A new study in Environmental Research Letters confirms climate model temperature projections remain flawed. The study, “The vertical profile of recent tropical temperature trends: Persistent model biases in the context of internal variability,” finds past generations of climate models have been unable to simulate atmospheric circulation patterns and temperature trends and the newest generation of climate models do even more poorly in tracking actual temperatures. The study was conducted by an international team of scientists from universities and research institutes in the U.K., Austria, and the United States.

Mitchell et al. compare the tropical temperature trends simulated by the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) general circulation models from 1979 to 2014, to the global weather balloon temperatures recorded by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Meteorology and Geophysics. The researchers found “considerable warming biases in the CMIP6 modeled trends” stemming from unrealistically large global warming simulated by CMIP6 models for the Earth’s surface and the lower-middle stratosphere. In addition, this research indicates CMIP6 models seem unable to account for stratospheric cooling which has been measured over time.

The authors write,
 

[W]e note here for the record that from 1998 to 2014, the [previous generation] CMIP5 models warm, on average 4 to 5 times faster than the observations, and in one model the warming is 10 times larger than the observations.

[And because] we find considerable warming biases in the CMIP6 modeled trends, and we show that these biases are linked to biases in surface temperature (these models simulate an unrealistically large global warming), … we see no improvement between the CMIP5 and the CMIP6 models.


The study is the third in four weeks I’ve summarized and discussed in Climate Change Weekly demonstrating the CMIP6 climate models being developed for use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other international research organizations to simulate recent temperature trends and project future climate changes are as bad as or worse at tracking actual temperatures than previous generations of models.

So I ask once again, if climate models are unable to accurately portray past and present temperatures and trends, why should anyone trust their increasingly dire projections of future temperatures?

SOURCES: Climate Etc.; Environmental Research Letters; Climate Change Weekly 369; Climate Change Weekly 371


SOLAR ENERGY PUSH CREATING TOXIC WASTE PROBLEM

The solar energy industry has received generous subsidies and support from governments, in large part to show they are doing something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector to fight climate change.

In December 2019, The Heartland Institute released a study by Paul Driessen detailing the huge environmental harms endemic to green energy, including solar power production. These include the huge amount of land industrial solar and wind facilities require, and the environmental damage resulting from mining for and refining of rare minerals necessary to produce batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines. Now Wired is warning of another looming negative environmental effect from solar energy: the huge amount of toxic waste created when solar panels fail prematurely, break, or reach the end of their useful lives.


Wired reports,
 

Solar panels … are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives—and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.

But we’ll need to develop one soon, because the solar e-waste glut is coming. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually [and] standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels.


Each solar panel contains small amounts of minerals that go to waste if the panels are tossed into landfills. In addition, the solar panels contain toxic materials, such as lead, that can leach out as they break down, creating environmental hazards. As Wired notes, despite the value of some of the minerals contained in each solar cell, the way solar panels are constructed makes it difficult and exceedingly expensive to reclaim these minerals, with the cost of capturing them exceeding the value of the minerals recovered. Wired states, “a recycler taking apart a standard 60-cell silicon panel can get about $3 for the recovered aluminum, copper, and glass[;] … meanwhile, … the cost of recycling that panel in the U.S. is between $12 and $25—after transportation costs. … [By contrast,] it typically costs less than a dollar to dump a solar panel in a solid-waste landfill.”

As with the solar power industry itself, the solar recycling industry can only succeed with government support and regulations, Wired admits. Solar energy, from creation to dissolution, is wholly a creature of government and would have almost no share of electric power production worldwide if not for the billions of dollars of government subsidies and mandates. Government solar policies have created a waste problem that the solar industry is now hoping additional government policies will solve—leaving taxpayers, not solar power promoters, once again on the hook for the costs of solar power.

SOURCE: Wired; The Heartland Institute


AUSTRALIA’S SOLAR CRAZE UNDERMINES GRID

An article in Bloomberg reports the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is warning the government’s efforts to promote solar power are threatening the reliability and stability of the country’s electric power grid. As in California, which has also pushed renewable electricity in general and solar power in particular, Australians are experiencing widespread periodic electrical power shortages and blackouts caused by the shift away from fossil fuels and toward intermittent renewables. AEMO warns this will only get worse unless the government adopts new policies.

Australia’s abundant sunshine and the government’s efforts to shift the country from an electric power system dominated by coal power to one dominated by renewables to fight climate change has resulted in the country becoming one of the largest adopters of solar power. Bloomberg reports more than one in four houses in the nation have installed or were constructed with rooftop solar panels.

The surge in rooftop solar panels has had a downside, however, reports Audrey Zibelman, AEMO’s CEO.

“As we continue to see the increasing shift toward non-traditional generators and the increasing take up of household rooftop PV, we are encountering new challenges of managing voltage, system strength, and inertia,” Zibelman said.

If the use of coal power continues to decline, the electric power industry will have to invest heavily in batteries or other storage technologies to manage “the increase in renewable capacity … and increase the ‘controllability’ of rooftop solar via enhanced inverter standards on new panels, giving it the ability to curtail output if system stability is under threat,” AEMO says.

SOURCE: Bloomberg

Article Tags
Climate Change Environment
Sub-topic
Energy: Solar
Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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