Bob Carter not entitled to his own facts

John Cook has already thoroughly demolished this Bob Carter opinion piece in The Age, but I just wanted to highlight the failure in the editing process that allowed Carter's piece to be published as it was. Amongst other false or misleading claims, Carter claimed as a "Fact" that CO2

acts as a valuable plant fertiliser. Extra carbon dioxide helps to shrink the Sahara Desert,

Even someone with a little bit of common sense would notice that the difference between the Amazon and the Sahara isn't that there is a shortage of CO2 in the Sahara, but the editor at The Age didn't see any problem with publishing Carter's obvious nonsense. If you check what the science says about projected climate change rather than Carter you find:

Annual rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Mediterranean Africa and northern Sahara

Carter's piece was illustrated with a cartoon by John Spooner showing trees talking about how Gillard was taking their food. You might think that Spooner was mocking Carter, but if you look at other Spooner cartoons you'll find that he gets his science from Andrew Bolt and thinks that global warming is some sort of hoax.

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By ~age 10, farm kids learn Liebig's Law" of the minimum, although not necessarily the formal name.

I.e., plant growth is constrained by whichever input is in least supply. While gardeners use sealed greenhouses with elevated CO2 to improve yields for high-value plants, that only is useful (up to a point) because water, fertilzer, etc are optimized. Water is important.

Carter doesn't know what gardeners or 10-year-old farm kids do.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

Of course Bob Carter is entitled to his own facts. It's right there in the Constitution. And if CO2 isn't plant food, then why did Communism collapse? Case closed!

-- frank

@1 John Mashey

I suggest that you better coordinate with Tim in the future;

"While gardeners use sealed greenhouses with elevated CO2 to improve yields for high-value plants, that only is useful (up to a point) because water, fertilzer, etc are optimized"

That is not what he wanted in the first comment. ;)

As a climate scientist, I know that most of climate change projections suggest that the northern side of the Sahara will become drier as the global climate becoming warmer. But, the outlook that the Sahara will shrink in the southern side is not bad, though not sure either, as we can expect that the west African summer monsoon will strengthen in a transient warming climate.

By Kooiti Masuda (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

This meme was especially pushed by the Idso's, and Naomi Oreskes showed a slice of this video made years ago.
It had an animation of the world greening up with more CO2, and it was thrilling to see the Sahara turn totally green.

Note of course, Masuda-san's point doesn't really help Carter: monsoon may help S. Sahara, but that's from more water, not from more CO2 for plants.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink anyway, Plimer, Carter and Monckton go into a bar.
The barman looks up and says, "Sorry gentlemen, but get that swivel-eyed freak out of my bar".
So Plimer says, "But this is Professor Bob Carter, recently published in The Age".
And the barman says, "I know who he is. Get out".

Here till Thursday. Try the veal.

Excuse me for not checking Carter's logic. If his is the same as Idso's, I certainly do not support it. But we need to be careful. If we frame their claims too broadly and try to refute them, we are prone to deny some scientifically valid statements as well.

It is also scientifically right that increased carbon dioxide content will result in either increased photosynthesis or reduced demand of water (or partial gain in both, but not full gain in both). But the growing consensus of scientific evidence is that the gain we can expect is much less than Idso et al. suggested. Also, the quality of product is likely to be changed. In particular, carbon/nitrogen ratio. The plant materials is likely to become less protein-rich food for animals.

Somewhat off topic, but a report from the Annual International Conference on Climate Change hosted by the Heartland Institute.

By Anonymous37 (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

Yes, I agree. From what I can tell, Carter is just repeating the standard meme without much idea of the various nuances of limits of growth enhancement.
I should have also mentioned the sad fact that plants that really love co2 include poison icy and kudzu, which the Canadians expect to survive in lower Ontario within a decade.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

@3 GSW, Could I be so bold as to assume that you are not entirely ignorant of the fact that John's caveat where he stated "up to a point" is actually quite important when it comes to the effects (positive and negative) of elevated CO2 on plants or crops?

Would it also be too much to assume that you are aware that just because a particular substance may have certain benefits when used in a particular application with particular contraints, that it doesn't mean this substance is wholly beneficial for humanity under all circumstances?

I think most of us here (though clearly not all of us) understand the context of what John was saying.

@John Mashey No. 12

Poison ivy already thrives in southern and even in northern Ontario, and has for decades. A constant lurking threat during my formative years. No kudzu, thank God.

@15 Lar
Sorry, iPhone brevity:
"which the Canadians expect to survive in lower Ontario within a decade." applied to kudzu.

Read the good presentation from U Toronto, "Global Change and Invasive Plants in Canada."

To summarize: Something Wicked This Way Comes, or
"The vine that ate the South" is still hungry.

It gives Ontario something to compare with the beetles in B.C.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

A botanist could correct me if I'm off -- carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and water availability are actually part of the same limit (to a point). Stomata on plants open for access to CO2 and also to transpire water. If CO2 is in higher concentrations, the stomata can be open for less time (conserving water). If there's no water, though, no minerals will be brought up to the photosynthetic tissues when the stomata open.

@ Steve L

It's more complex than that:

It has long been known that stomata (the pores through which plants take in CO2 and exhale oxygen and water) tend to be narrower and stay closed longer under enhanced CO2. This effect is often cited as a benefit in that it increases water efficiency in drought situations. But there is another key piece to reduced stomatal conductance, considering that 90% of a plantâs water use is actually for cooling of the leaves and nothing more: heat from the sun is absorbed by the water in the leaf, then carried out as vapor in the form of latent heat. So while it is true that the plant may retain water better under enhanced CO2, doing so may cause it to retain more heat. This can potentially carry a plant to less optimal temperature ranges.

(emphases mine)

Source: CO2 Is Plant Food at Skeptical Science.

Has Bob really gotten this dumb or is his demagoguery reaching new heights?

"Fact 5. For an assumed tax rate of $25 a tonne of carbon dioxide, the costs passed down to an average family of four will exceed $2000 a year.

Remember, too, that Garnaut's recommendation is that the tax rate should be increased at 4 per cent a year, which would result in a cost doubling in less than 20 years."

That's assuming that the tax will have zero impact on the energy sources and BUA in perpetuity. Plus zero compensation for low to middle income earners. Even ignoring that, it's meant to cause pain at the carbon end of the energy spectrum, because decades of no pain have certainly not shifted the industry.

"Fact 5. For an assumed tax rate of $25 a tonne of carbon dioxide, the costs passed down to an average family of four will exceed $2000 a year.

Carter and Abbott want everyone to believe that the Carbon tax just "disappears" into a black hole when it is actually re-circulated into the economy through either some type of rebate or direct spending on emission reductions. The real economic cost of the Carbon tax is far less than the value of the tax, but the dishonest brokers are never going to say this.

One question is, why is Abbott able to get away with his invisible taxation for "direct action" which makes everyone pay the same for Carbon emission reductions regardless of how much or how little they pollute. Whatever happened to the principle of polluter pays? Abbott is getting away with a fraud.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

@ Tim, couple of typos in your OP:

Para 1
... but I just wanted to highlight the failure in the editing process that allowed Carter's piece to be published as it was.

Para 2
Even someone [...] a shortage of CO2 in the Sahara,
If you check what the science says about projected claimate change rather...

Para 3
Carter's piece was illustrated with a cartoon by John Spooner showing trees talking about how?? Gillard was taking their food.



SteveL - You're obviously not THAT much of a pedant, you missed "claimate change"! =D

Connor, you're obviously not a pedant's pedant, as you missed that SteveC struck out the "a" in "claimate"! ;-)

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

I have written about this extensively on other threads so no need to write a lengthy rebuttal of Carter's innane logic (and let's be honest, the guy has no expertise whatsoever in plant/animal physiology or ecology; just because he is a scientist in no way gives him any expertise in fields well outside of his own. The same applies to the Idso clan, who routinely mangle the findings of empirical studies to bolster their 'C02 is wonderful' nonsense).

To add to Masudako's point, changes in atmospheric levels of C02 will affect plant and community stoichiometry. Most importantly, carbon is not a limiting nutrient for plants: nitrogen and phosphorus are. So as more carbon is taken up in plant tissues, more of these other two nutrients will be excluded. At the same time, many plants have nitrogen based allelochemistry (meaning chemical defenses that are based on nitrogen) whereas others have carbon based allelochemistry. It is clear that there will be asymmetric shifts in the defense aresenals of different plant species depending on their allocation of carbon or nitrogen to growth or defense. And of course, plants critically depend on interactions with a stagering array of mutualists and antagonists. These include pollinators, herbivores (in different feeding guilds) predators, parasitoids and organisms that vary in mass by many factors. At the same time, plants compete with one another for access to light, nutrients and water. There is little doubt that increases in C02 will benefit some plants (e.g. early successional weeds) more than others, and again we will see many examples of competitive exclusion and a reduction in diversity as some plants begin to dominate certain landscapes. Throw changes in other abiotic factors into the mix and what we have is a distinctly non-linear experiment where there will be both winners and losers. One thing is for certain: ecological systems will unravel, reassemble, or break down, and with them resistance and resilience will be compromised. With their simplification goes a range of critical ecological services that sustain humanity.

Lastly, as John Mashey correctly points out, warming will enable thermophilic species to advance their ranges polewards or to higher elevations. Many of the most serious agricultural pests are species that spread north during the summer months but die back to the southern parts of their ranges in winter (e.g. species like the soybean looper, Pseudoplusia includens, and the cabbge looper, Trichoplusia ni, serious pests in cropping systems, are two good examples). Fire ants are limited in the northern extent of their range advance due to their cold intolerance. Winter is therefore an important biological control agent. As the climate warms, however, we will see species surviving further and further to the north, meaning that they can build up their populations there much more quickly in spring.

These important points are seldom if ever addressed by the defenders of the human atmospheric experiment. Certainly this is partly because they are promoting a political agenda, but it is also partly because few (if any) qualified environmental scientists occupy their ranks. This is an area in which I am qualified to comment, and it is continually frustrating to see a small coterie of denialists mangle science the way they continually do.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 30 Jun 2011 #permalink

I was genuinely surprised at the numbers reported for the anti carbon tax rally in Sydney, I expected only about 50 would show up.

A bit OT but on yesterday's edtion of PM (ABC current affairs program for non Australians here) there is an extremely good piece on [how to plan an anti carbon tax campaign]( My wory is if the anti carbon tax people listen to it and act on it then the carbon tax work by the Australian government is in trouble. Those of us who want emissions reduction measures should listen to it because it contains a good and succint critique of the recent GetUp ads with Cate Blanchett and great pointers to how to engage the Australian community.

The Australian government also desperately needs to listen to this radio piece.

I see gibbering dotard GSW has remembered how to type his nick. Bless!

By monkeywrench (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

Maybe they ought to put all the options out and call a referrendum. The one with the largest number of votes wins.

Just like the democratic elections are done.

And, just like there isn't a "no government, please" option, there's no need to put a "no change, please" option.

Thanks SteveC at 18. I usually read all the SkS posts. Getting a bit behind now.

Australian TV is being bombarded with wierd mining industry ads with people wistfuly wanking on about how Mining made them love their French dog or some crap, I was expecting some hardcore scare campaign from these chumps, instead they have opted for art ads...hooray.

@Jeff Harvey

I read your rather lengthy piece. But it would seem that you could not actually bring yourself to say that "CO2 is NOT plant food" at any point.

Am I to assume that, with some caveats, you agree that "C02 is plant food". Some clarification here would be appreciated. Something shorter than your usual pontifications likewise.

GSW, not surprisingly, misses the point. The role of CO2 in photosynthesis is not in dispute. What is challenged is the nit-witted notion that more CO2 is an unqualified boon to the planet's biosphere, and should therefore be welcomed.

But GSW is evidently a denier, and therefore incapable of grasping the idea that the dose makes the poison.

If you go back and re-read - perhaps at a slower pace and with a dictionary to help with some of the longer words - you'll find that Jeff H. has answered your question already. You just don't possess the wit to understand it.

The shorter, Cliffnotes version is that CO2 is not "plant food" in the way you understand it. Or to be rather more precise, in the way your extremely limited understanding has been led to believe by vested interests way more savvy than your sorryarse.

@chek @harvey

Indeed, chek, harvey's weasel words are intended to mislead the ill-informed that "C02 is NOT plant food", which is why I sought clarification from the self proclaimed "expert" himself.

He won't of course, he's sold you a pup, you bought it, and he is happy to leave it at that.

Come on harvey, step up to the plate. "C02 is/is NOT plant food", we all wait in awe for your response!

Again, a simple "is/is NOT" will suffice. I don't think I could put up with you droning on in that self satisfied smug way that you always do.

Do you actually think you're being clever GSW? Do you think it's some gotcha for "Either it is or it isn't?" How small does your brain have to be to think in such petty binary terms?

By Left_Wing_Fox (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

GSWtroll said: "self proclaimed "expert" himself"

So the troll can't even Google. What a dope.

@chek @harvey

I did google chek, he's a Zoologist not a Botanist and I shudder to think what he was doing to those poor seals.

Come on harvey, your 'wisdom' please!

A little too cute that GSW is demanding answers to his question when he's never bothered to answer the questions previously put to him.

GSW claims that climate has changed in the past, but has never provided evidence, despite repeated requests.

GSW claims that in the past we had periods of widespread glaciation, which he called "ice ages" (LOL), but has never provided evidence, despite repeated requests.

We all wait in awe for his response.

GSWtroll said: he's a Zoologist not a Botanist

Oh dear, what a self-proclaimed maroon. About as informed as stating Bill Gates is merely some college dropout.

Try again, maybe next time not using some alternative-reality conservapedia.


It's what it says on his personal homepage chek


GSWtroll said: It's what it says on his personal homepage

Really, it's more accurate to say that's what you self-proclaim to understand from it.

Which doesn't amount to much.


Come on harvey, your 'wisdom' please!

That's enough GSW. From now on you are only permitted to post to the Open Thread. All replies to GSW should also go there.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

Another moronic troll belled!

Folks: Firefox+greasemonkey+killfile works here; it's not as good as the old USENET fillfiles. Really, reading some posters will turn your brain to mush.

Actually, speaking of mush, see another example of someone not entitled to his own facts Peter Wood, an anthropologist, who runs the National Association of Scholars, which might not be what it seems, but is located near Princeton. This is a reaction to my 5 seconds of fame in Science, as per DeSMogBlog.

However, he has downgraded me from Princeton (coincidence?) prof Will Happer's label of "a destructive force" to being merely an equivalent of P. T. Barnum ... or perhaps Bruno Latour.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

"CO2 is plant food, therefore increasing CO2 levels is good for the biosphere."

"Water is plant food, therefore flooding the planet is good for the biosphere."

I'm hard pressed to see any substantive difference between the two arguments.

By Mithrandir (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

Thank you Tim!

Thanks indeed! That literally made my afternoon!

Thanks Tim.

Thanks Tim for dealing with GSW. As a parting shot, my research involves insects AND plants; I have one PhD student working now on ecological interactions with the invasive plant, Bunias orientalis, and another studying soil and above-ground interactions in genetically different chemotypes of wild cabbage. One of my Master's students is also examining resistance traits in tomato plants as this affects the development of insect s and their natural enemies. In fact, plants are at the heart of my research.

The problem is, that GSW, not accessing the primary literature, had no idea of what my research involved. Glad he's not contaminating most of the threads here now.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

... and finally to answer that final point of GSW: see excellent post by Mithrandir @ 44.

My argument was that primary productivity and the vitality and resilience of ecological systems are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, increasing atmospheric concentrations of C02 would lead to all kinds of asymmetrical, non-linear effects that would almost certainly reduce diversity and make systems more prone to collapse. As I explained above, plant fitness depends on all kinds of interactions with soil and air-borne biota and not just on individual abiotic factors. At the rate humans are increasing atmospheric levels of C02, we are going to see all kinds of differential responses in an astounding array of species that will certainly affect the strength of interaction network webs. Simple thinkers like many in the denial camp do not understand one iota about cause-and-effect relationships in natural systems; their take is that an increase in parameter 'x' will linearly result in a positive response in parameter 'y'.

Of course, ecologists have long known that this is utter fallacy, which is why this nonsense is usually spewed from the mouths of people who have no qualifications in relevant fields of research. Most of them couldn't tell a mole cricket from a giraffe. So is C02 plant food? Not in the way the denialists are spinning it. Not at all. Their aim is to downplay the warming associated with increased levels of C02 and then to argue that putting more and more C02 into the atmosphere is a *good* thing because it will increase primary productivity and thus benefit humans and nature. As I have said numerous times, this is pure and utter nonsense. I have explained some of the reasons why above so there is no need to repeat myself.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 01 Jul 2011 #permalink

What if he is the 'discoverer' of the said facts through his own research ? Or do we have to have a consensus of facts, in this the new 'post science' paradigm ?

By Billy Bob Hall (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

Carter can't even be bothered to spew some new BS, but has to settle for that? He's just phoning it in, and should return his payments. As for GSW, why would anyone think he/she/it was arguing in good faith - ever? Why respond to such nonsense directly? Just make passing reference so a new reader can get some sense, and only one person needs to do that. Sheesh - have you never seen a troll before?

re: 50
Firefox+Greasemonkey+Killfile. Good things.

re: 49
Jeff: GSW isn't worth it, I Killfiled quickly.
But, you are fighting an uphill battle: in urbanized societies, I'm afraid people are less connected to food production then they once were.

Penn State started as an ag school, and is home to the famous Creamery. At least here, Googling "creamery" gets that as first hit, much to my wife's surprise, although she has had ice cream there. I'd told here it was famous (Ben & Jerry got their start via correspondence course).

I had a grad school colleague from New York City, whose only wall decoration was a NYC subway map. He knew food came in grocery stores, but he liked chocolate milk, so we took him up to the dairy field and showed him the dark cows...

By John Mashey (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink


Increase in human emission of CO2:

Corresponding increase in global mean temperature trend:

About 5.7-times increase in human emission of CO2 from 111 to 632 G-ton caused little change in the global mean temperature trend of 0.15 deg C per decade.

As a result, according to the data, AGW is a fraud.

SMH, which should know better, has just published a piece by Carter - supposedly as a response to Ian Chubb's article of a week ago.

I'm now expecting we will have climate scientist articles for the next 99,999 weeks before they provide an article from another deniosaur.

That's pretty decent, Sou. Although I'd add someone needs to call out the fallacy here:

> In particular, the IPCC ... has shown repeatedly that it is not in the business of shifting its beliefs, whatever the evidence; instead, facts contrary to its convictions are either ignored or neutralised by adjusting the models.

Er, Bob, you disingenuous twit: *adjusting the models* **is an example of** *shifting its beliefs*!

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

I think it's also noteworthy that Carter is trying to reframe the entire use of the word "consensus" to mean "unsettled" and hence "doubtful" - using highly dubious logic. (Has Frank Luntz been surveying the public again?) That needs strong pushback or an even more powerful counter-frame.

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

There's an interesting piece by Jennifer Coopersmith on The Science Show recently here: The laws of thermodynamics and the fate of humanity

It discusses in part the constraints of a warming atmosphere on plant health.

A sample:

For example, consider the process of photosynthesis. This process appears paradoxical in as much as gases in the presence of chlorophyll and sunlight are tamed and made to reside quietly in large and complicated plant molecules. What prevents the total orderliness from increasing is that at the same time as plant material is being formed, waste heat is thrown out in the form of evaporated water. Up to 500 times as much water must be lost to the atmosphere for plant cooling, as is required for plant growth. But in tropical regions the ambient temperature is already so high and the air already so humid that plant cooling and hence photosynthesis is at the limit of efficiency. Any increase in temperature, and plant growth will decrease or stop.

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

Nice post Fran @44
I once offered the readers at Bolt's hideous blog the chance to prove the harmlessness of CO2 by inhaling a 70/30% mix of oxygen and CO2 (it produces some startlingly unpleasant psychological effects, principally abreaction, where childhood traumas are relived in very realistic ways). Sadly, none were willing to volunteer; and all missed the simple point that increasing ones intake of substances that are relatively innocuous in low concentrations does not automatically lead to benefits, and is an unwise idea.

By monkeywrench (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

oops that should have been "Fran @ 56"....but Mithrandir's post @44 was good too.

By monkeywrench (not verified) on 02 Jul 2011 #permalink

monkeywrench @ 58

My favourite response to the 'it's only a small amount so how could it possibly have any bad effects?' crowd, is to offer them a couple of micrograms of nice fresh polonium to sprinkle on their breakfast.

Such a tiny amount relative to the average adult weight (well under 1 ppm) is orders of magnitude below the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere (currently 390 ppm). How could it possibly hurt anybody, according to their reasoning.

Then I point them at this article.

No takers yet.

Not to mention, Wot Wot "Really, Officer, are you seriously endeavouring to tell me that these minute trace amounts of alcohol in my bloodstream could possibly impair my ability to drive this vehicle?"

Doesn't blood alcohol lag car speed?

@ John, high blood alcohol content is also commonly detected after car accidents. Therefore car accidents cause high BAC.


SteveC, there is ample empirical evidence that high BAC has occurred prior to GHG emitting SUVs and the like.

Rather my PhD student studies - for which I am studying studiously - suggest further investigation of a natural cycle with an 800 year lag time, with a strong gravitational correlation.

I have no wish to encourage the trolls, but GSW's responses to Jeff Harvey's post make me stop and think.

I know they're not on the same level of abuse recently documented here, but it gives me a flavour of the crap flung at anyone with credentials who pops their head up above the parapet.

harvey's weasel words are intended to mislead the ill-informed

Uh? Not only a complete misrepresentation of the post, but trolls can deduce intent? Really??

self proclaimed "expert" [...] droning on in that self satisfied smug way

Which conveniently ignores an established track record of papers in peer-reviewed journals.

he's a Zoologist not a Botanist and I shudder to think what he was doing to those poor seals

As if being the one denied one the chops to appreciate and understand the other, let alone be someone who's devoted a significant part of their working life to understanding the interactions between the two. Yet trolls like this appear quite happy to take the word of certain geologists as gospel while at the same time somehow forgetting to question their expertise in botany, plant physiology and microbiology, and ecosystem dynamics.

Note - this is not a reply to the GSW troll so much as a general observation on trolls, Murdocratic lackeys and the substitution of ad hominem attacks on scientists for reasoned argument.


The troll's comment:

>...harvey's weasel words are intended to mislead the ill-informed...

is also notable for the fact that is acknowledges that many on his side are indeed "ill-informed".

As you say, the troll cannot in any way discern what Jeff Harvey's intentions are - although as a fellow scientist I know that Jeff's intentions are not to "mislead", but to educate.

However, if the troll thinks that others in his camp are ill-informed, I'd have to concede that for once in his life he has managed to hit the nail squarely on the head. It's a patently and trivially obvious fact, and it's good to see someone of his inclination finally admit to it.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 03 Jul 2011 #permalink

Chek said:

Rather my PhD student studies - for which I am studying studiously - suggest further investigation of a natural cycle with an 800 year lag time, with a strong gravitational correlation.

I think you've overlooked the possibility that high BAC readings are products of Global Cosmic Rays and urban alcohol islands. Those breath-testing units are set up near hotels just to fluff the figures for drunken computer modellers. One of them told a friend in a private email he was going to "beat the crap out of me" if I said that at a conference. I think this proves my point, whatever it was.

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 04 Jul 2011 #permalink