NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Burning Fossil Fuels Helps Plant Growth

June 25, 2003

The burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide (CO2), increased levels of which may lead to global warming. However, the botanical literature shows that elevated atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will be beneficial for plants throughout the world, says Dr. Robert Balling, director of the office of climatology, Arizona State University.

  • Virtually every plant growing on the Earth evolved when CO2 levels were 10 times higher than modern concentrations.
  • When we add CO2 to the atmosphere, plants dramatically increase their rate of photosynthesis and they close their stomates (openings in the leaves) thereby reducing transpiration.
  • This combination makes them grow faster and become more water-use efficient and more resistant to drought.
  • The smaller stomatal pores in the leaves further protects the plants from other potential stresses floating around in the atmosphere such as elevated ozone and sulfur dioxide.

The plants see elevated CO2 as a gift of the Industrial Revolution -- it's like they're going home again, says Balling.

Ironically, he explains, we are bombarded with a message that CO2 is somehow a pollutant that will degrade the global biosphere as concentrations continue to increase. In fact, experiments the world-over show just the opposite.

Trees benefit enormously from elevated CO2. We see the forest and we see the trees, and they both thank us for the CO2 we're adding to the atmosphere, says Balling.

Source: Dr. Robert Balling, "The Forest and the Trees," June 18, 2003,

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