Jeffrey Sparshott’s otherwise excellent article “Putin Cabinet approves signing of Kyoto protocol” (Business, Friday) unwittingly promotes the alarmist view that carbon dioxide emissions (one of the “greenhouse-gas emissions” he mentions)are necessarily “pollution” and, consequently, that the United States is the “world’s heaviest polluter.”
A clear, odorless gas that is nontoxic to humans at many times current atmospheric levels, CO2 neither fouls the air, impairs visibility, nor contributes to respiratory disease. More important, CO2 is the basic building block of the planetary food chain, and rising concentrations help most plants grow faster and bigger, use water more efficiently and resist pollution and other environmental stresses. The ecological benefit of an atmosphere richer in CO2 is well-nigh universal, because all animals depend, directly or indirectly, on plants as a food source. Empirical studies suggest that the 100 parts per million increase in atmospheric CO2 content over the past 150 years has increased mean crop yields by significant amounts: for example, about 60 percent for wheat, 33 percent for fruits and melons, and 51 percent for vegetables.
Were it not for the extra CO2 put into the atmosphere by fossil fuel combustion, many people now living might not exist or many forests now standing might have been cleared and turned into farmland — or both. Far from polluting the planet, CO2 emissions are greening the Earth, enhancing biodiversity and global-food availability.