Outline of a Greening Effect Benefit and Risk Assessment

The 3 questions to be answered are these:

1. How much has the increase in carbon dioxide levels contributed to feeding the world so far, compared to the contribution of technology?

2. What is the increase in carbon dioxide levels likely to contribute in future?

3. How much of this benefit will be lost if the carbon dioxide increase is slowed or halted?

In other words: What is the risk to global population growth and well being if we curb CO2 growth?

The key fact is that world population has grown enormously and food production has kept pace with it. In 1975 the earth's population was 4 billion, today it is 6 billion. That's 2 billion more mouths to feed in just 25 years, and they are in fact fed. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's per capita food production indices vary with weather, natural disaster, and civil unrest, but they are basically constant. Production has increased 50% in 25 years. A miracle, the green miracle of global food (also shelter and clothing) increase.

Moreover, population growth, while slowing, continues, so we must figure out how this green miracle has happened and keep it going. To the extent there is evidence that the CO2 increase is a significant contributor (the Greening Theory), we don't want to do anything to reduce that contribution, such as slowing or stopping the CO2 increase. The risk is potentially enormous, including starvation on a global scale. And there is abundant evidence that CO2 increase is one of, if not the chief, contributor to the green revolution -- theory, experiment, and observation all concur.

First off, there is a very strong correlation between CO2 levels and crop production. Correlation is not causation, to equate them is the post hoc fallacy. But we have both a correlation and a mechanism, which is a strong argument for causation. CO2 is the food of plants so it seems natural that if the mass of available food increases the mass of plants should too. That this is true for total global plant mass is now confirmed by several so-called "sink studies". What is true for total mass should be true for crops, especially since we are going to such great lengths to remove the other possible limiters to growth, such as water, nutrients and pests.

Back to the correlation. That it should be a coincidence is virtually impossible, since the standard deviation is very low. The third alternative is that both CO2 increases and crop increases have a common cause. The likely candidates are technology, or population per se, or both. Any assessment of this must begin with the fact that some of the poorest countries have sustained the greatest population growth.

They are generally feeding themselves, because they cannot buy a lot of imports. Then one expects to also find that technology alone cannot explain this fact. For precisely the same reason -- they cannot afford it and so have not availed themselves of it to a degree sufficient to explain the increased production. Analytically this amounts to showing that there is not a correlation between intensity of technology and increased production. This is the heart of the study. First passes over the data show this to be true, but some arduous analysis remains to be done. The key to this analysis will be figuring out ways to accurately estimate the impact of each technology.

For example, some countries with large population growth have seen large growth in irrigation, but others have seen very little. Likewise for the use of fertilizer, mechanization, etc. Sorting out the relative contributions of technology versus the greening effect, as well as among specific technologies, will not be easy, but it should be possible. Until it is done we cannot know the risk associated with curbing the CO2 increase. The USDA should lead Greening Research, but it is doing nothing.

Absent technology, simply throwing more people at the same land can increase production only so much, but that is the last hypothesis to be exhausted. If that can be disproved then only the CO2 increase per se is left. In a way it is simple, which is good. We know that CO2 has increased, and that food production has increased as well. Is there a causal connection? Given that theory, experiment and observation concur there is probably only one reasonable conclusion. The green revolution is to a significant degree the greening effect. Since the green revolution is one we desperately want to continue, the cost (or lost benefits) of cutting CO2 growth might well be a global population disaster.

The magnitude of this risk needs to be carefully assessed before action is taken.

Anyone wishing to pursue this analysis will do well to start with FAOSTAT.This is an extensive online database maintained by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It provides annual data on a host of measures, generally from 1961 to the present. Measures are for individual countries and numerous regions, plus other combinations of countries. They include production of various crops, and population, plus many measures of technological inputs, such as irrigation, mechanization fertilizer and others. Many measures are provided both in absolute terms and as per capita indices. The data can be cut in millions of ways online. To download the results requires a subscription, but one may be able to copy tables from the screen and paste into a spreadsheet.

The FAOSTAT Statistical Database contains over 1 million time series records covering over 210 countries and territories and 3,000 items in the areas of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Nutrition.


The two diagrams below present FAOSTAT data for Bangladesh from 1961 to 1996, in five year increments.

The upper chart is called a scatter diagram. It plots CO2 levels against population. The result is very nearly a straight line, which indicates a high statistical correlation. Technological input is also plotted. It does not correlate well with population, in fact technological development drops off to nothing in the 1990s. This indicates that the population growth is more likely to be due to the CO2 increase than to technological input.

The second chart presents the relative changes in the three parameters. It shows that technological input was high in the early years but tailed off dramatically through the period. On the other hand, population increase and carbon dioxide increase are relatively parallel. This is another way of showing the strong statistical correlation between food supply and CO2. Bangladesh is still feeding its population, despite the dramatic decline in technological inputs.

Table of Contents

Carbon Dioxide -- The Miracle of Food.

Introduction to the Greening Theory.

The Green Revolution: feeding the global population.

Technology and the Green Revolution.

Government Policy Toward Carbon Dioxide: why is it negative?

A Huge Hole in the Climate Change Science.

The USDA Should Lead Greening Research, but it is doing nothing.

Outline of a Greening Effect Benefit and Risk Assessment.