Global warming good for plants: Fact or fiction?

Western Sydney University’s ‘EucFACE’ experiment enriching a forest with carbon dioxide. Credit: WSU

There is global agreement in the scientific community that climate change is happening, but is it really as bad as it sounds? A recent article by The Blaze suggests global warming is good for plants. They argue that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, a main ingredient of photosynthesis, will lead to enhanced growth of crops, making farmers happy.

On the flipside, new research from Western Sydney University says an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is useless if the other ingredients for plant growth are missing – like in many parts of Australia.

So, who’s right?

Let’s check the facts:

1. Carbon dioxide levels are rising: Fact

The data speaks for itself.

2. Carbon dioxide is a main ingredient of photosynthesis: Fact

Plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen using water and sunlight – we’ve known this for a while.

3. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide will increase plant growth: Fiction

Western Sydney University researchers tested this by pumping extra carbon dioxide into a Eucalyptus forest. Turns out, those trees didn’t grow more than the regular air-breathing trees next-door.

Why is this happening?

Carbon dioxide is just one of the ingredients needed to make a plant grow. You’ve probably noticed your garden starts to die if you forget to water it, and that it goes wild after applying fertiliser or nutrients.

When researchers added phosphorous, an essential plant nutrient, to the soil, the trees grew an extra 35%! Even though the trees had more carbon dioxide to use (and photosynthesis did increase by 19%), their growth was limited by the lack of phosphorus: a building block of plant DNA and energy molecules.

Imagine you’re trying to bake cupcakes when, miraculously, you find another cupcake tin at the back of the Tupperware cupboard. You can now make cupcakes twice as fast! Except, now you’ve run out of eggs…

It’s a slippery slope to just focus on one part of a complex issue. NASA even measured a global decrease in plant productivity, thanks to rising temperatures and droughts. We need to consider ALL angles before drawing conclusions on the largest issue facing our world today.

That’s why climate change research is so important: from trees in Western Sydney to satellites in space, each day we get a little more information on a big problem.

But, her emails!?

Bake the planet before it bakes you! Credit: Pinterest

Still undecided? Have a go at baking some cupcakes without all the ingredients. Once you’ve cleaned up the mess, go make some real ones; like the seven year old climate action cupcake baker, Max. All hail the #climatecupcake!

Better yet, why not share this article on social media, or host your own climate change bake-off before we all bake from a 3°C global temperature rise by 2050.

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