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About

On this site, I’ll be writing about photosynthesis and plant growth in a CO2-enriched world, as well as providing a Canadian view on climate change.

An appreciation of photosynthesis isn’t necessary to understand climate change, but it can complement it. If we take a long perspective, looking back over Earth’s history, we can see that changes in the rates of photosynthesis, on grand, planet-changing scales, have shaped our evolution and our world. Photosynthetic carbon fixation by photoautotrophs has maintained an atmosphere with free oxygen, life supporting oceans, and vast and heavy food chains of organisms. It is the light from the sun of millions of days captured by photosynthesis and buried and stored in oil and coal and gas, that is now being burned and released in atmosphere-changing proportions.

No method exists on Earth that is as effective at fixing carbon than photoautotrophic growth. It is light and carbon, captured via photosynthesis, that got us into this situation. Photosynthesis is still active, fixing anthropogenic CO2. But will it be enough get us out of trouble?

Forests can absorb some of the extra carbon. New forest growth and expansion of the treeline, maybe still more. Even so, the steady annual rise of the Keeling Curve shows that photosynthesis has not been keeping up. We expect there to be limits, and we would be wise to expect unexpected feedbacks. For example, growth of shrubland tundra may increase the per unit area carbon fixation, but at the expense of permafrost, which currently stores a vast amount of methane and soil carbon.

Much of this topic should be uncontroversial. It is a matter of fact that CO2 has increased in the atmosphere, and a matter of biology that plants will respond to it, and to increasing temperatures. Understanding and observing the consequences of increased CO2 and temperature on plant life and the planet shouldn’t be a political or ideological matter, although it often is.

CO2 levels are increasing. The world, from a plant’s perspective, has already changed.

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Contact: carbonfixated (at) gmail.com

28 Responses to “About”

  1. Gail says:

    OMG. I really hope you will take a look at my blogging about trees and other forms of vegetation, all of which appear to be in a state of dire emergency.

    I am a bit obsessive about it, because it’s happening right here on my own little farm. But also, I think it’s important because many of the policy makers who work in Washington will soon notice it’s happening in their backyards as well. And that’s when we may see some transition.

    Most people refuse to recognize the precipitous decline and foliar damage that is rapidly increasing in velocity.

    For a while I thought it was global warming induced drought, or perhaps the vast change (40%!) in increased CO2. And I don’t rule that out.

    But it’s definitely something atmospheric that is causing a dramatic rate of death in trees and as of this past growing season, annual crops, and aquatic plants.

    I think it could be from burning ethanol. Or perhaps, from an increase in nitrous oxide. It’s been really difficult to find a trained specialist to even be interested in combining the realms of botany, physics, and chemistry.

    The most sensible response I’ve gotten so far from writing to every forester and academic and government agency I can find was from a paleontologist who said simply, “climate change is always followed by mass extinctions.”

    Because sure enough it seems to me that if one major component of the environment is altered rapidly – say, temperature or precipitation or the composition of the atmosphere, let alone more than one – then, the species that are evolved over millions of years to occupy that particular niche simply must die out, it’s inevitable. And then there are cascading effects as the loss of any one species affects the survival of another.

    If you accept Darwinian evolution, no other conclusion can be expected. I have had foresters write me that trees and other species are robust. But I disagree. I think, the relationships between species, and with their environment, are delicately calibrated and any disruption has consequences.

    I look forward to reading through your past posts and appreciate any response.

    Gail
    Oldwick, NJ

  2. Kate says:

    Hello Cam, I came to check out your site after you left a comment on my blog. Great stuff you have going on here! I wonder why I haven’t heard of it until now! The sociology/media/CRU satires you’ve been doing for the last few months are especially fantastic. Keep up the good work – I’ll be subscribing.

    [Cheers Kate!]

  3. Milan says:

    If you haven’t already read it, I really recommend:

    Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet

    [CAM: Funnily enough, it’s on my desk right now.]

  4. Milan says:

    No method exists on Earth that is as effective at fixing carbon than photoautotrophic growth.

    Plants could certainly take a big chunk of CO2 out of the atmosphere, but the total biomass of the planet cannot increase indefinitely. Flows from the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into the stock of carbon in plants and soils can take a set quantity of CO2 out of the air, but they cannot compensate for the constant flow of emissions arising from burning fossil fuels.

    In order to stop climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Alongside that, we can use plants and soils to pull some of the CO2 we’ve already added to the air back out again.

    (Oh, and in the very long run, weathering of rocks also removes CO2 from the air.)

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  7. Norm says:

    CO2 has not enhanced the greenhouse effect so it has not been a factor in the 0.4°C of observed global warming since 1980 (to 1997 when global cooling ended.
    This proper scientific definition of the greenhouse effect was known to Hansen who stated it as “Ts – Te is the greenhouse effect of gases and clouds” and defined Te according to the same formula Te = [So(1-A)/4?]1/4 (Hansen, J., D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, and G. Russell, 1981: Science, 213, 957-966, doi:10.1126/science.213.4511.957.)
    Satellites have provided TSI and OLR measurements since their launch in late 1978 and from TSI and OLR we can determine albedo (A) and Solar flux (So) from which we can actually calculate the greenhouse effect for 1980 and 2010 to see if the 70.9% increase in CO2 emissions enhanced the greenhouse effect as has been claimed by Suzuki based on IPCC computer models.
    It turns out that in 1980 the Greenhouse Effect was 35.56°C but dropped by 0.14°C to 35.42°C by 2010 proving conclusively that CO2 emissions did not in any way enhance the greenhouse effect rendering the entire IPCC conjecture of anthropogenic global warming nothing more than pure bunk.
    What this calculation does show is that changes in albedo was the prime causative agent pointing to the work by Svensmark and his hypothesis of solar controlled cosmic radiation influencing cloud nucleation as the mechanism for this change in albedo.
    This is confirmed by Project Earthshine which measures albedo and shows changes to be consistent with the change to global cooling in 2002

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