Planet of the Plants
By Glenn Scherer, Grist Magazine. Posted July 25, 2005.
Humanity is on the threshold of a century of extraordinary bounty, courtesy of global climate change. That's the opinion of Robert Balling, former scientific adviser to the Greening Earth Society, a lobbying arm of the power industry founded by the Western Fuels Association. In a world where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar from the burning of fossil fuels, he says, "crops will grow faster, larger, more water-use efficient, and more resistant to stress." Quoting study after study, he invokes visions of massive melon yields, heftier potatoes, and "pumped-up pastureland." Bumper crops of wheat and rice, he says, will benefit the world's farmers and the hungry.
Balling's assertions are backed by solid science: Gaseous CO2 fertilization does cause remarkable growth spurts in many plants, and could create a greener planet with beefier tomatoes and faster-growing, bigger trees. But there's a catch: The insects, mammals, and impoverished people in developing countries who feed on this bounty may end up malnourished, or even starving.