At the very minimum, we all learned in school that sunlight drives plant photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen. This is really great news, because sunlight is abundant, and where water is abundant, photosynthesis produces oxygen for us to breathe, and in the case of crops, food for human and animal consumption.
Once you get to college botany, though, the chemical processes get much more complicated, and recently, researchers at the University of Gothenburg [UG], Sweden, discovered it’s even more complex than that.
The global warming phenomenon, driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is having effects globally, from increasing temperatures to increasing frequency of severe weather as the earth’s systems seek to balance out.
Human beings, both the cause and caught in the middle, are suffering record droughts in some areas, and record rainfall in others. As if these extremes weren’t bad enough, the crops themselves are being affected by the carbon-dioxide content itself. First, increased carbon-dioxide leads to greater crop yields, but the resulting crops have less nutritional content.
UG Researchers Håkan Pleijel and Johan Uddling have recently completed a survey of 17 varieties of wheat in 10 different countries in varying climates, with undeniable results, “Elevated carbon dioxide levels often increase the size of the grain yield, but also lead to a reduction in quality in the form of lower protein content.” Currently, Pleijel and Uddling are looking into other crops to see if they are affected equally.
As they’re discovering, balanced levels of nitrogen and carbon dioxide are needed to form the proteins that are important for consumption, but with carbon-dioxide levels increasing, nitrogen absorption is inhibited. This means that increased fertilization won’t solve the problem. Global warming isn’t just affecting weather and temperature, but is affecting our crops directly, meaning that, even with increased crop yields, there just isn’t the nutritional content as previously.