Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change
Idso, C.D., Legates, D. and Singer, S.F.
Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels -
5 Environmental Benefits
Combustion of fossil fuels has helped and will continue to help plants
and animals thrive leading to shrinking deserts, expanded habitat
for wildlife, and greater biodiversity.
Many of the scholars and advocates who write about climate change are
either unfamiliar with or overlook the environmental benefits created
by human use of fossil fuels.
Chemists and biologists should know better:
Fossil fuels are composed mainly of hydrogen and carbon atoms, two of
the most abundant elements found in nature.
They are not "pollutants" but share a common chemical basis with all
of life on Earth.
Geologists should know better, too.
The global carbon cycle acts to buffer the impact of man-made carbon
dioxide (CO₂) by including it in exchange processes among carbon
reservoirs that are huge compared to the human contribution.
The size of the human contribution to atmospheric CO₂
concentrations is so small it may be less than the margin of error
in measurements of known exchange rates among carbon reservoirs.
Geologists ought to realize that current atmospheric CO₂
levels are not unprecedented and indeed are low when considered over
geologic time scales.
Because CO₂ is essential to plant and animal life, it is
possible human use of fossil fuels may avert an ecological disaster.
Fossil fuels directly benefit the environment by making possible huge
(orders of magnitude) advances in efficiency, making it possible
to meet human needs while using fewer natural resources.
Fossil fuels make it possible for humanity to flourish while still
preserving much of the land needed by wildlife to survive.
And the prosperity made possible by fossil fuels has made environmental
protection both highly valued and financially possible, producing a
world that is cleaner and safer than it would have been in their absence.
This chapter also finds the CO₂ released when fossil fuels are
burned improves the productivity of ecosystems and has a positive
effect on plant characteristics, including rates of photosynthesis and
biomass production and the efficiency with which plants utilize water.
Atmospheric CO₂ enrichment ameliorates the negative effects of a
number of environmental plant stresses including high temperatures, air
and soil pollutants, herbivory, nitrogen deprivation, and high levels
of soil salinity.
With the help of the ongoing rise in the air's CO₂ content,
humankind should be able to meet the food needs of a growing population
without occupying much of the land needed by wildlife to survive.
Although there likely will be some changes in terrestrial animal
population dynamics, few (if any) will be driven even close to
In a number of instances, real-world data indicate warmer temperatures
and higher atmospheric CO₂ concentrations will be beneficial,
favoring a proliferation of terrestrial species.
Similarly, many laboratory and field studies of aquatic life demonstrate
tolerance, adaptation, and even growth and developmental improvements
in response to higher temperatures and reduced water pH levels.
When these observations are considered, the pessimistic projections of
the IPCC give way to considerable optimism with respect to the
future of the planet's terrestrial and marine life.