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Climate Change Deniers Believe Carbon Emissions Are Good for Us

I spent time at a conservative climate change conference and this is what I found.

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Mar 27 2017, 1:00pm

SD Pictures-Pixabay

Climate change deniers have settled upon one rebuttal to the established science of human-caused climate change that has them feeling particularly brash, and almost giddy with nihilistic joy: carbon is good for us.

At a recent conservative-run climate change conference I attended in Washington, DC, Craig Idso, founder of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Climate Change, a nonprofit research group dedicated to undermining climate science, faced the crowd and said: "Atmospheric CO2 is not a pollutant, It is the elixir of life."

Carbon dioxide is simply plant food, he argued, and its buildup in the atmosphere over the last century has greatly increased global crop production "courtesy of the ever increasing human combustion of fossil fuels."

The conference was put on by The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that's one of the largest purveyors of climate skepticism in the US. In 2012, leaked documents showed Idso was receiving almost $12,000 a month from them.

Idso claimed, based on his own self published study, that burning fossil fuels has increased crop yield by $9.8 trillion dollars over the years. Emboldened by his own talking points, he went onto say that we could burn all the fossil fuels on Earth and see only environmental benefits.

Unfortunately for climate change deniers, this is not only misguided but profoundly ignorant of the complexity of Earth's ecosystems and the array of domino effects that occur when balances are tipped.

The biggest problem with this assertion is that it assumes that because plants need carbon, no amount of it could be bad. It also assumes that all plant species need the same amount of carbon, or that they will react in the same way to rising temperatures. One just has to look at the diversity of the over 400,000 described species of plants says otherwise.

Some, like alpine species, will die in increased temperatures; others that need more water will shrivel as already warm environments desertify; plants that live in the shallows will die from too much water as the coastlines recede. More still will be affected by how the pollinating insects and herbivores they rely on react to the severe changes as well.

"We have a wide range of agricultural crops that are dependent on pollinators—which provide one out of every three bites of our food," conservation biologist Rich Hatfield, of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit dedicated to invertebrate conservation previously told Motherboard.

And some are already starting to disappear. The rusty patched bumble bee, for example, a critical pollinator of wildflowers and crops like tomatoes and apples, has lost 90 percent of its population in the last 20 years.

While Idso claims that carbon emissions will continue to promote vegetation growth—as they have to some degree—continuing atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide will also drive desertification, which already afflicts roughly 46 percent of the land in Africa. By 2050, wheat yields on that continent could decline by 35 percent.

Idso and many of the Heartland Institute's affiliated scientists, however, try to brush these concerns off as the nonsensical fears of liberals.

According to the Heartland Institute's scientists, climate change will also be the greatest boon to public health in human history.

It would do Idso and his ilk well, however, to look back through the natural history of Earth and see what happens when climate undergoes vast shifts—mass extinction. About 250 million years ago, nearly 90 percent of all species on Earth perished in the Permian extinction. Scientists think extreme shifts in global temperature could've been the culprit.

According to the Heartland Institute's scientists, climate change will also be the greatest boon to public health in human history.

John Dunn, medical director of a handful of ambulance services in Central Texas and contributor to Heartland Institute publications, mocked the dire warnings of "climate alarmists" to a grinning crowd at the conference telling them that, on the contrary, warming will bring drops in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, and overall mortality.

All living things do better in warmer weather, he explained. "Winter is a killer, summer is not. Anybody disagree with that?"

Well, yes, as it turns out. About 97 percent of the global scientific body and the 196 countries that agreed to the Paris Climate Accord disagree with that.

"[Climate change] can impact whether or not we can deliver clean air and water," former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Motherboard in a previous interview. Increased temperatures trap more ozone, and exacerbate smog and particulate matter in the air, she explained, causing more respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Mosquito borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever and West Nile virus are likely to proliferate as precipitation and increased flooding occur in some areas, whereas heat stress, and desertification will deprive others of much needed water resources. "Tell me the great public health benefits of having NO water, because you're in drought, and your wells have run dry?" she said.

And what does Dunn think of rising coastlines? "It's a bunch of baloney." He said to roaring laughter from the crowd. "You can always move away from water."

Dunn must be planning on opening up his home to any of the 25 million people in the United States that could be displaced by advancing shorelines.