The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide on Global Food Production

A new report from the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change examines the benefits of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The report can be downloaded from a link on this page.

The study provides “a quantitative estimate of the direct monetary benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on both historic and future global crop production. Results indicate that the annual total monetary value of the increase in the air’s CO2 content (since the inception of the Industrial Revolution) for world crop production grew from about $20 billion in 1961 to over $160 billion by 2011, reaching the staggering sum of $3.5 trillion over the 50-year time period from 1961-2011. And projecting the monetary value of this positive externality forward in time reveals that it will bestow an additional $11.6 trillion on crop production between now and 2050.”

To set the stage, the report reminds us that:

At a fundamental level, carbon dioxide is the basis of nearly all life on Earth. It is the primary raw material or “food” utilized by the vast majority of plants to produce the organic matter out of which they construct their tissues, which subsequently become the ultimate source of food for nearly all animals and humans. Consequently, the more CO2 there is in the air, the better plants grow, as has been demonstrated in literally thousands of laboratory and field experiments. And the better plants grow, the more food there is available to sustain the entire biosphere.

The table below shows the increase in production that may be gained from a 300 ppm rise in carbon dioxide – not quite double the current concentration.


The report also discusses the issue of climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide; i.e., the disconnect between climate model projections of temperature rise due to carbon dioxide versus real world observations.  (For more details on that subject, see my post: More evidence that climate models are wrong.)

The report concludes, in part:

It is clear from the material presented in this report that the modern rise in the air’s CO2 content is providing a tremendous economic benefit to global crop production. As Sylvan Wittwer, the father of agricultural research on this topic, so eloquently put it nearly two decades ago:

“The rising level of atmospheric CO2 could be the one global natural resource that is progressively increasing food production and total biological output, in a world of otherwise diminishing natural resources of land, water, energy, minerals, and fertilizer.”

See also:

Terrestrial biosphere response to rising CO2 and temperature

More evidence that climate models are wrong