Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Mainstream Climate Science Defeats Global Crank Mike Adams

Mike Adams falsehoods about carbon dioxide

Mike Adams, the founder of the anti-science and anti-medicine (actually, anti-reality) website NaturalNews, is perhaps one of the most prolific cranks on the Internet. He subscribes to a wide range of absurd pseudoscientific beliefs and spreads dangerous and harmful myths about vaccines, peddles anti-GMO propaganda, promote homeopathy and distrusts the germ theory of disease and even rejects the strongly evidence-based position that HIV is the cause of AIDS (website links in the reference section). This makes him a sort of global crank and an example of crank magnetism. Adams recently wrote an ignorant compilation on NaturalNews called “Al Gore backlash: Why environmentalists are celebrating rising CO2 levels” were he repeated a number of stale climate change denialist talking-points.

In reality, more carbon dioxide will indeed provide a fertilization effect, but we have to remember that climate change does not just involve an increase in carbon dioxide, but also temperature, which means that the fertilization effect is moderated by heat stress. Furthermore, even if carbon dioxide is in excess, other reactants such as nitrogen becomes limited thereby down-regulating photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide has far-reaching climate effects because of interactions and feedback systems. It is unreasonable to use the fact that there has been higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the past, because the problem is the rapid change in carbon dioxide and temperature, not absolute levels per se. Finally, natural sources and sinks of carbon dioxide more or less balance, but it is the extra addition on carbon dioxide from anthropogenic sources that matter because it brings a net positive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Basically, if Mike Adams just checked the list of common climate change denialist arguments over at Skeptical Science, he would not have to write such an intellectual embarrassing post. Then again, it would probably be an intellectually embarrassing post about something else.

CO2 fertilization exists, but the story is more complex

It is true there is a fertilization effect of carbon dioxide. However, this will mostly benefit C3 plants and have little impact for C4 plants. Additionally, global warming comes with increased temperatures that contribute to heat stress for the plant, which would counteract part of the fertilization effect.

If carbon dioxide is added in excess, other nutrients may become limiting such as nitrogen. Nitrogen is important for a key enzyme in the dark reactions of photosynthesis called Rubisco. A fertilization effect will tend to dilute the nitrogen concentration in biomass and thus down-regulate photosynthesis.

CO2 has far-reaching climate effects

Adams makes a big deal that the absolute concentration of carbon dioxide seems low (400 ppm). However, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have far-reaching consequences. By itself will cause a few degrees of warming, but it will have other feedback effects as well: the increase in temperature will cause more carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere from the ocean, release methane from the arctic, contribute to desertification, melting of ice etc. that all in turn contribute to direct warming or indirect warming through the release of greenhouse gases.

Organisms have a hard time adapting to rapid increase in CO2 and temperature

While it is true that both the temperature and the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have been higher in the past, the changes that occurred were very slow on a geological time scale giving plants and other organisms enough time to evolve and adapt to the changing environments. When these kinds of climate changes occurs on the timescale of just a few centuries, it may be too quick for many species to adapt. That is one of the reasons for why we should be concerned by rapid increase in carbon dioxide and temperature.

Carbon dioxide, warming and coral bleaching

Corals that form reefs constitutes a biological partnership between a polyp from the phylum Cnidarian and a zooxanthellae. This latter partner performs photosynthesis and feeds the polyp with carbohydrates and the polyp protects the zooxanthellae and provides some nutrients. When higher sustained temperatures occur, this partnership breaks down and the zooxanthellae algae is ejected. It is this that gives the reef corals their color, so they become “bleached”. The breakdown of symbiosis can kill the coral and coral mass death occurs due to ocean warming.

Comparing natural and anthropogenic emissions of CO2

Similar amount of carbon dioxide is released as is absorbed from natural non-anthropogenic processes. However, when humans dig up fossil fuels and burn them, we are releasing carbon dioxide that was not in circulation into the atmosphere. This means that we contribute a net increase, even though it is not comparable to the total amount of carbon dioxide. A helpful analogy is diet: the argument that human emissions are negligible in size compared with natural release is kind of like claiming that you cannot possibly gain weight by eating 500 extra food calories per day, because these 500 food calories is very small compared with your total intake (say, 4000 food calories). The key thing missing is of course the fact that you also, according to this argument, spend 4000 food calories per day. Still, eating 500 more food calories per day will cause you to gain in mass.


Mike Adams is anti-vaccine, an anti-GMO zealot, rejects the germ theory of disease and denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS.

Refutation of most climate change denialist assertions: Skeptical Science.

Global warming and coral bleaching: How global warming is driving mass coral bleaching.

CO2 fertilization: CO2 is plant food.

Human versus anthropogenic emissions of CO2: How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions?.

5 responses to “Mainstream Climate Science Defeats Global Crank Mike Adams

  1. Martin Lack July 24, 2013 at 22:32

    I was, at first, disappointed to see people who are ‘anti-GMO’ being equated with ‘anti-science’. However, what I suspect (or hope?) you mean to mock is the ‘frankensein food’ hysteria. This is not why I am anti-GMOs. I am anti-GMOs because they are almost certainly not being marketed for altruistic reasons. Monsanto (et al) are no more interested in the welfare and nutrition of poor people than were Nestle when the sold powdered baby milk to mothers perfectly capable of breast-feeding. I am similarly not anti-Nuclear because it is ‘dangerous’. I am anti-nuclear because it is technologically elitist; and likely to create a new form of technological colonialism. The only problem with taking this view, however, is that – if humanity can survive the approaching climate meltdown – it is hard to see how we can do without nuclear power generation in the very long-term….

    • Emil Karlsson July 24, 2013 at 23:49

      If you object to genetically modified foods because you dislike large corporations, then you are against large corporations, not anti-GMO. In fact, the problem of large corporations are almost completely unrelated to issues regarding safety and effectiveness of GM technology and GM products.

      In the case of Mike Adams, he has more or less supported all aspects of the frankenfood hysteria and it is indeed these kinds of assertions that I label as “anti-GMO propaganda”.

      There are many examples where GM crops have been developed by scientists funded by USDA grants or money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation without focusing on the profits of large corporations. Well-known examples include golden rice and the Hawaii transgenic papaya (I have discussed the latter example here, here and here).

    • Martin Lack July 25, 2013 at 09:16

      Thanks Emil. Another forum for hysterical over-reactions is of course genetics, e.g. “scientists want to create babies with two biological mothers”… I know it will sound arrogant but, the power of such story-telling is of course assured by the unscientific background of the majority of readers…

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