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Science czar's guru called for more carbon

John Holdren

This is the first of a three-part series of articles exploring Obama administration science czar John P. Holdren’s self-acknowledged intellectual debt to geochemist Harrison Brown. The second part, to be published tomorrow, will feature Brown’s endorsement of government-enforced eugenics as a necessary measure to prevent global overpopulation.

In the 1950s, before climate scientists had targeted carbon dioxide as a dangerous chemical, atomic scientist Harrison Brown, one of Obama science czar John Holdren’s acknowledged gurus, called for a global increase in carbon dioxide, precisely because of its perceived greenhouse-gas effects.

Harrison Brown – a geochemist who supervised the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project – wrote in his 1954 Malthusian book “The Challenge of Man’s Future” that the production of the food needed to feed an increasing world population could be advanced by human-manipulated greenhouse effects, including forcing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In 1986, science czar Holdren co-edited a scientific reader, “Earth and the Human Future: Essays in Honor of Harrison Brown.”

In one of his introductory essays written for the book, Holdren acknowledged he read Brown’s “The Challenge of Man’s Future” when he was in high school and that the book had a profound effect on his intellectual development.

Holdren acknowledged Brown’s book transformed his thinking about the world and “about the sort of career I wanted to pursue.”

Holdren further commented in glowing terms that Brown’s book was a work “that should have reshaped permanently the perceptions of all serious analysts about the interactions of the demographic, biological, geophysical, technological, economic and sociopolitical dimensions of contemporary problems.”

Pump more gas

Lamenting on page 140 that “the earth’s atmosphere contains only a minute concentration – about 0.03 percent” – Brown observed, “It has been demonstrated that a tripling of carbon-dioxide concentration in the air will approximately double the growth rates of tomatoes, alfalfa, and sugar beets.”

Brown then argued on page 141 that “controlled atmospheres enriched in carbon dioxide” would be an essential component of enormous greenhouses built to grow plants in nutrient-rich solutions.

His conclusion? Pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in all regions of the world.

“It would perhaps be easier to adopt methods which would increase the carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere as a whole than to attempt to build elaborate greenhouses to confine the enriched air,” Brown wrote on page 142.

“If, in some manner, the carbon-dioxide content of the atmosphere could be increased threefold, world food production might be doubled.”

Brown was clear that world governments should cooperate to generate excess carbon dioxide, not to reduce human-generated carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“One can visualize, on a world scale, huge carbon-dioxide generators pouring the gas into the atmosphere,” he wrote.

Brown went so far as to recommend burning more coal to generate electricity, precisely because burning coal emitted carbon dioxide.

“There are between 18 and 20 tons of carbon dioxide over every acre of the earth’s surface,” he noted on page 142. “In order to double the amount in the atmosphere, at least 500 billion tons of coal would have to be burned – an amount six times greater than that which has been consumed during all of human history.”

In the absence of coal, Brown recommended producing the needed carbon dioxide from limestone: “In the absence of coal, the equivalent in energy would have to be provided from some other source so that the carbon dioxide could be produced by heating limestone.”

Brown ultimately rejected the construction of vast greenhouses or the use of a carbon-dioxide-enriched environment because they would be too expensive, not because the methods would not work to stimulate food production.

Writing about algae farms in the tropics, for instance, Brown observed: “If air that is enriched with carbon dioxide could be used, even higher yields might be obtainable, but we have seen that operating costs, and in particular energy costs, become very large if carbon dioxide must be manufactured.”