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Does breathing contribute to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

By breathing out, we are simply returning to the air the same CO2 that was there to begin with.

Climate Myth...

Breathing contributes to CO2 buildup

"Pollution; none of us are supporting putting substances into the atmosphere or the waterways that might be pollutants, but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. If Senator Wong was really serious about her science she would stop breathing because you inhale air that's got 385 parts per million carbon dioxide in it and you exhale air with about ten times as much, and that extra carbon comes from what you eat. So that is absolute nonsense." (Ian Plimer)

At a glance

We, and almost all of our relatives in the animal kingdom, are aerobic. That means we all depend on this simplified equation in order to function:

glucose + oxygen → carbon dioxide + water + energy

We breathe in oxygen and that oxidises carbohydrates in our body's cells. That chemical reaction gives us the energy required to perform all the varied tasks we do, from blinking to running a marathon. The products of the process are carbon dioxide and water. While the air we breathe in contains just under 420 ppm CO2, what we breathe out contains 40,000-50,000 ppm CO2, a hundredfold increase due to the simplified equation above.

Because we are breathing constantly, this rapid gas-exchange with our surroundings is also constant and, while each of us live, is perpetual. We are part of the fast carbon cycle that involves the movements of carbon through the living world. Of course, the living world also includes plants. Plants take in carbon dioxide to react in the presence of sunlight with the water in their cells. That, in a nutshell, is photosynthesis, the process responsible for the plant-based carbohydrates we eat.

We are vastly outnumbered in terms of carbon biomass by the plant kingdom. Of the estimated nearly 500 billion tonnes of biomass carbon on Earth, the animals account for just 0.4% whilst the plants represent 90%. No wonder that the graphs of measured CO2 levels show an annual fluctuation, forming a symmetrical wobble. The wobble represents the Northern Hemisphere seasons because that's where most of Earth's land masses are found. In the growing season when the plants are busy photosynthesising, CO2 falls, only to rise again in the dormant season. The annual wobble is like the heartbeat of the planet, a regular rhythm along the rising slope that represents our emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Let's imagine a world without fossil fuel-burning. The annual wobble from the seasonal growth and dormancy of plants would be superimposed upon a near-flatline of CO2 levels over human lifetimes. Only occasional events, occurring over tens of thousands to many millions of years, would perturb that near-flatline. That's because there is a second, slow carbon cycle that operates over geological time-scales. In the geologic past, sudden changes in CO2 levels have occurred, primarily due to volcanism on a scale no human, living or dead, has ever witnessed. The fossil record tells us the outcome has never been good.

Fossil fuels are part of the slow carbon cycle. They represent one of several long-term geological reservoirs in which carbon gets locked away. But because we are digging or pumping fossil fuels from the ground and burning them, it is the slow carbon cycle that we are interfering with. No other species has ever intentionally interfered with the slow carbon cycle: this is a first on Planet Earth in its 4.5 billion year long existence. The person quoted in the myth box above is a geologist. He should know better.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

The very first time you learned about carbon dioxide was probably at school, where you were taught that we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. The process, known as aerobic respiration, is something the vast majority of animals do. In our cells, the following enzyme-controlled reaction is taking place:

C6H12O6+6O2 → 6CO2+6H2O

It's a bit more complicated than that, but the equation is a representative overview. Carbohydrate is oxidised to carbon dioxide and water. The reaction is exogenic - meaning it releases energy at around 3000 Kilojoules per mole of glucose. And while we breathe in air with almost 420 ppm CO2 (2023 figure), it should come as no surprise that the air we breathe out contains 40,000-50,000 ppm (4-5%) CO2, representing a hundredfold increase. That's the product of aerobic respiration.

When confronted with the challenge of reducing our carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, some people angrily proclaim, "why should we bother? Even breathing out creates carbon emissions!"

If someone makes such a statement, they are missing two crucial points. Firstly, our respiration doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. In terms of carbon biomass, we are dwarfed by the plant kingdom. Animals only account for a paltry 0.4% of the estimated near-500 billion tonnes of biomass carbon on Earth. Plants make up 90%.

Through photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, in a chemical reaction that is essentially the opposite to our aerobic respiration. Plants do perform some respiration, because they need to metabolise as well, but it is outweighed by the photosynthesis. The carbon they collect from the CO2 in the air, converted by photosynthesis into carbohydrates, forms their tissues - roots, stems, leaves, fruit and so on. Such tissues are eaten by all sorts of animals, which in turn are eaten by other animals. We humans are part of this food chain. All the carbon in our body comes either directly or indirectly from plants, which took it out of the air only recently. When we breathe out, all the carbon dioxide we exhale is simply being returned to the air. We are simply giving back the same carbon that was there to begin with. In doing so, we are actively participating in the fast carbon cycle. But our participation is tiny compared to that of plants.

The Keeling Curve (fig. 1) is the graph showing rising CO2 levels as measured at Mauna Loa and other observatories. On it, the plant world's participation in the fast carbon cycle can be seen. Due to photosynthesis, CO2 levels show an annual fluctuation, forming a regular wobble. The downward part of the wobble represents the Northern Hemisphere growing season. Since that's where most of Earth's land is distributed, it's where most of the CO2 drawdown takes place. In the Northern Hemisphere winter, when most plants are dormant, you get the upwards part of the wobble. The wobble, like a planetary heartbeat, is a regular rhythm superimposed upon the rising slope that represents our emissions from fossil fuel burning.

 The Keeling Curve

Fig. 1: The Keeling Curve - monthly mean CO2 concentration data (with the occasional volcanic anomaly filtered out), Mauna Loa Observatory, 1958-2022. Inset shows the annual 'wiggle' caused by seasonal plant-growth and dieback in the Northern Hemisphere. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

Secondly, fossil fuels are the remnants of the fast carbon cycle, fortuitously preserved at various points along the geological time-line. That burial and preservation locked them out of the fast carbon cycle, putting them into the long-term storage part of the slow carbon cycle. Normally the slow carbon cycle operates over geological timescales. Thus, some of the coal we've mined has been more than 300 million years in storage, belonging, appropriately enough, to the Carboniferous period.

Forget about breath. Our carbon emissions from the slow carbon cycle are a) colossal and b) geologically unique. No other species in Earth history has deliberately disturbed the slow carbon cycle. But it has been disturbed - occasionally - by geological processes. Magma has occasionally cooked coal-deposits, as has been observed in Siberia (fig. 2). That rapid release episode, at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago, didn't work out well. Biodiversity took a massive hit. It recovered – but the recovery took around ten million years.

Masses of coal caught up in basalt. 

Fig. 2: masses of coal caught up in basalt, Siberian Traps Large Igneous Province, from Elkins-Tanton et al. 2020. The rising magma interacted with and thoroughly cooked a major coal-basin, releasing a colossal amount of fossil carbon over a few thousand years. The result was catastrophic with the largest mass-extinction of the entire fossil record. Photo: Scott Simper, courtesy of Lindy Elkins-Tanton.

Weathering, plate tectonics, deformation and metamorphism of rocks have all affected CO2 levels - over millions of years. And that's the point. We are doing to our atmosphere, in a few centuries, what most geological processes could only accomplish over millions of years. Through fossil fuel burning, we are performing a unique, vast and uncontrolled experiment with our home planet – the only one we have.

The animation below was published by Dr. Patrick T. Brown (Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University) in September 2018, to explain how human respiration fits in to the overall process.

Last updated on 3 December 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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Comments 126 to 150 out of 159:

  1. MA Rodger
    You continue to read superfluous content into my messages. Such as your statement: “you manage to ignore the decrease in the biomass of wildlife that is also a by-product of human activity”. Wildlife was not on your chart and I never ignore wildlife.
    And your statement:”You say it was ejected from an exploding star 5 billion years ago.”
    Your question was: where does all this carbon come from?

    Exactly what I said was: Best guess, from a cloud of hot gases and other mass that resulted from the explosion of a very large star about five billion years ago.
    There are many thoughts, theories if you like, about an answer to a poorly presented question at the end of a paragraph with incorrect information in it. My guess was one to attempt to satisfy your poorly developed comprehension and reasoning. An irrefutable answer, I do have, I’m sure would not be understood by you.

    I’m leaving this venue as there are no preceptors here for me.


    [DB] Inflammatory snipped.

  2. scaddenp
    CO2 does not burn. And I don’t have to guess!
    The CO2 exhaled by humans is additive to the atmosphere.
    Simply stated, your post does not justify the Lie.
    I’m leaving this venue as there are no preceptors here for me.


    [DB] This participant has opted to recuse himself from further participation here.

  3. Yes, of course, it contributes to the CO2 in the atmosphere.

    And no in the big scheme of things it is not all accounted for by the carbon cycle. It almost feels like some people are trying to answer this question so that their children won't feel bad about breathing.

    Ask yourself this question:

    What type of machinery plows the fields where the crops grow? What does that machine run on?

  4. While human population breathing out does not in itself cause harm - more humans mean more homes. The majority of homes use fossil fuels both during construction and while habitated. Homes are often built on de-forested land too, so my argument would be that an increase in population would absolutely cause an increase in CO2 emmissions. The manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels will contribute greatly to the impact on the environment, not to mention the thousands of square miles of land they'll require and their affects on widlife and the countryside. I think it's time we stopped thinking so negatively about nuclear power, and concentrate our efforts into building the thousands of nuclear power plants that will be required over the next 25 years. They will have less net impact on the environment over the long term, and economies of scale will make them cheaper.

  5. Tallguy1000,

    I posted a reply to you here where it is on topic.

  6. I believe breathing is a good thing and should not be interrupted for very long.

    Let me summarize what seems to be relevant to people adding CO2 to the atmosphere.  First, an adult produces about 1 kg CO2 each day, or 365 kg CO2 each year.  Second, there are about 8 billion adults & children doing this.  So how much CO2 does human respiration add each year?  Here comes the math:

      (8 billion people)*(50 kg/person average) = 0.4 GT live biomass

       (365 kg CO2 per year)/(62 kg person) = 6 kg CO2 per year per kg live biomass

      (0.4 GT)*(6 GT CO2/yr per GT live biomass) = 2.4 GT CO2 per year

    For comparison, motor vehicles generate about 3 GT CO2 per year.  All fossil fuels (& cement making) generate maybe 40 GT CO2 per year.  It looks to me like respiration should not be discounted or ignored.  Especially when livestock, earthworms, and marine critters are added.

    From what I saw in Wikipedia on Biomass, the total livestock mass is about 0.7 GT.  Also, the total for ants, worms, and termites is maybe 7 GT.  Marine adds 2 GT.  All these are rough estimates, so the total is roughly 10 GT living biomass.

    If all the living things generate CO2 at the same rate we do, then the total respiration rate is 60 GT CO2 per year.  This exceeds all the fossil fuels & cement production.

    In conclusion, I'd say respiration is a significant source of CO2.


    [DB] Scientists know through due diligence that the rise in atmospheric concentration of CO2 is from the human combustion of fossil fuels due to the unique and characteristic isotopic nature of that rise and because it occurs in lockstep with the decline in atmospheric oxygen levels.  Because they've done the research demonstrating both.

  7. Paul @131 ,

    if you consult Wikipedia more closely, you will see that you have forgotten to add in a vastly greater living mass ~ plants , fungi, and various types of mono-cellular microbes. 

    They all  respire CO2.   And even though their metabolic rate is slower than warm-blooded humans, the sheer enormous size of their biomass means that they exude CO2 at a total rate enormously higher than humans.

    So there's that.

    Worth consideration !

    I wonder why the expert scientists are not the slightest concerned about that? 

  8. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't human respiration contributing to the accumulation of CO2 per the simple fact that the majority of fertiliser used in commercial farming is derived from fossil fuel sources? 
    Annually, more than 200 million tonnes of synthetic fertilizer is used to produce plants consumed by humans. Granted, that carbon is accounted for in natural gas consumption statistics, and therefor can mathematically be cancecelled out if we declare human respiration as carbon neutral. That doesn't make human respiration technically carbon neutral, however.

  9. tokenterprises @133,

    While it is an interesting consideration that you make, is it not the case that the "majority of fertiliser", while manufactured from natural gas, does not inherit carbon from that natural gas? Thus the carbon in human respiration is not FF carbon. The hydrogen obtained from the natural gas is FF hydrogen but the FF carbon release is a by-product of the process. The argument thus rests on that the FF hydrogen requiring the  FF carbon release (and this can be released as CO2 if the CO is used to extract further hydrogen from water) but that 'requirement' is also present for the burning of FF to power the tractor to plough and harvest the crop as well as to bring the crop to the factory to be processed, the powering of that processing, and so on....

    I think your argument would stand up only if firstly there was direct use of FF carbon on the fields that ends up in the food consumed by us respiring humans, and secondly where that FF carbon ending up in the plant is not a direct substitute for atmospheric/soil carbon. Such conditions might hold less with fertilsers that contain carbon but with the CO2 used in greenhouse operations. ("The most common method of CO2 enrichment for greenhouse application is the combustion of fossil fuel.") Yet there is a further condition which would be met ony if this were the 'majority' situation, or at least some significant part of it. I would think it isn't a 'majority' situation but solely some small proportion of the planet's vegitable consumption. The area of greenhouse cultivation is 500,000 ha which, if it all used enhanced CO2, should be compared with the 1,600,000,000 ha of global croplands, just 0.03%.

  10. Tokenterprises @133 , It's worse than that.

    Even the bubbles you absorb from your Coca-cola     ;-)

    (But isn't most synthetic fertilizer a nitrogen-based compound ~ though admittedly there's a huge amount of fossil fuel usage in the production.)

  11. Tokenterprises @133
    MA Rodger @134

    I would like to make an argument on human exhalation in much simpler form on the following premises using inductive reasoning:

    1. Sustaining of life requires exhalation.
    Stopping of exhalation terminates life.
    2. Sustaining life of 7.5 billion people on Earth requires fertilizers.
    3. Fertilizers are produced using fossil fuels.
    4. Fossil fuels used in fertilizers production contributes to concentration of CO2 in atmosphere.

    If we agreed to above premises the general conclusion has to be: supporting life of more than 7 billions people on the Earth requires emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels to atmosphere. Therefore, in order to sustain human civilization human exhalation has to influence amount of CO2 in atmosphere.

  12. @136 antjrk,

    The same sort of logic fallacies are present in your line of reasoning as are often found in the "anti-herbivore" propaganda.

    1 is a vacuous truth red herring.

    2 is a false premise.

    3 is a hasty generalization association fallacy.

    4 is true

    "If we agreed to above premises the general conclusion has to be: supporting life of more than 7 billions people on the Earth requires emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels to atmosphere." is circular reasoning where the conclusion is exactly the same as the premises. Especially 2 being a false premise makes the conclusion unsupported as well.

    To boil it down to the essence, yes agriculture currently contributes to AGW, but there is no reason to assume it MUST contribute to AGW. In fact there is plenty of evidence that agriculture could be managed in a way that is net negative on the carbon cycle to the atmosphere, by sequestring a large % of the primary products of photosynthesis into the soil. A process that also has a side effect of greater yields without the need for haber process nitrogen fertilizers.

    Clearly the primary fallacy of declaring human breathing as an emissions source causing AGW is the double counting fallacy. But since agriculture can be done in many many ways, and not all require nitrogent fertilizers made from fossil fuels, the hasty generalization is flawed. More importantly, it does not lead to any solutions. 

    Address the complex nature of agriculture does indeed suggest many solutions. So your flawed reasoning is not useful in any reasonable AGW discussion that includes potential solutions.

  13. antjrk @136,

    I will set out different argument to that @137.

    Simply, if there is no audit trail of the carbon content of FF being transferred to fertiliser and thence to a food crop and thence this same carbon being consumed by humanity and exhaled into the atmosphere; if this autid trail is missing, then your argument could also be applied to the fuel used in the tractors on the farm and the lorries bringing the crop to the consumer, the processing and packageing of the food, and finally the cooking of it. Where would you stop? And how about keeping humanity warm? That can be essential to life and utalises FFs. Or flying them round the world on holiday? After all, of those billions of polluting humans, one-in-ten obtains a livelihood from tourism.

    So let's stick to that audit trail. Most fertilisers do not contain carbon so there is no audit trail.

    And while urea is used as a fertiliser and that does contain carbon (NH2)2CO, that carbon is not part of the fertilising process and does not transferred to the plant. All carbon contained in food crops is drawn from the atmosphere and consuming such food simply returns that carbon whence it came.

  14. @137 RedBaron
    Accusing me for “anti-herbiviore” propaganda and “vacuous red herring” is political, offensive and unscientific approach and is not helpful in finding the truth. This kind level of discussion does not make any sense  to be  productive to carry on.
    MA Rodger@138
    I agree let’s stick to the audit trail. Let’s look into urea. Urea does contain carbon atom which will be finally converted by biochemical processes to CO2 and release to atmosphere. Another part might be incorporated into humic acids especially in soils rich in clay/bentonite and release latter straight to atmosphere. As another example, the carbonate calcium often used in soil conditioning process is a source of calcium which is one of the essential ingredients for sustaining the life on the Earth. When decomposed release CO2 to atmosphere. In both cases they are not directly exhaled and not in the food chain. However, without them the food chain could not exists. For tackling the problem in more efficient way, I would brake human exhalation on two components: direct and indirect. Direct will be exhalation by breathing and indirect like those by urea or calcium carbonate which produce CO2 straight to atmosphere without entering the food chain but is necessary for the process to exist. In order to make it more clear, I would propose pseudo-mathematical formula:
    Direct(inhalation) + indirect(inhalation) = life (7.5 billions people on the Earth)
    Both components are necessary for existence of 7.5 billions people on the earth.

  15. Antjrk @139 and earlier,

    you have divided the food-chain [human outbreathed] fossil carbon into "direct" and "indirect" components.

    As RedBaron and MA Rodger have indicated, the direct transfer of fossil carbon via vegetable-based & animal-based food . . . seems to be negligibly tiny.  Indeed, it's likely that your outbreath contains far more "fossil-based" CO2 deriving from you drinking Coca-cola or other soda-pop , than it does from any fertilizer (synthetic or natural fertilizer).

    You are quite right that there's a large "indirect" contribution, from fossil fuels energizing the production of synthetic fertilizer, and transporting it, and spreading it.  And the same indirect contribution, in harvesting the food, in transporting it and processing & packaging it, and distributing it . . . and refrigerating it . . . and in transporting purchasers to the shops . . . etcetera.   The whole fossil fuel economy we conduct, has a fossil CO2 contribution woven into almost everything we do and use, in our modern lives.   # And that is exactly what we need to change, of course.

    You could even point to the fossil fuel burnt by the school bus that conveyed the farmer to the local school when he was a boy.

    All that said ~ it is very unclear to me what is the precise point you are wishing to make about CO2 and food and outbreath.    Please clarify !

  16. antjrk @139,

    I cannot accept your clain that this accounting of CO2 emissions identifies "components ... necessary for existence of 7.5 billions people on the earth."

    Picking up on a few parts of your comment:-

    • The agricultural use CaCO3 is, like the larger component from cement production, a source of CO2 emissions which is in addition to fossil-fuel use.
    • The use of CaCO3 on farmland is not because "calcium ... is one of the essential ingredients for sustaining the life on the Earth" but because it reduces soil pH.
    • You fail to provide anything that constitutes part of the direct(inhale) component and were you to identify such, it doesn't lead to anything that establishes a source of CO2 emissions that is any different to the usual FF+cement+land-use-change.
    • Just as creating a world without coal/gas-fuelled powerstations and petrol-fuelled cars is proving difficult but is not impossible, so the feeding of the planet without FF-derived fertiliser will require big and difficult but not impossible change.
  17. Eclectic @140

    I would like to clarify my position by bringing the Haber-Bosch syntheses which requires to use fossil fuels. It’s estimated that nitrogen fertilizer now supports approximately half of the global population. In other words, Haber and Bosch — the pioneers of this technological breakthrough — are estimated to have enabled the lives of several billion people, who otherwise would have died prematurely, or never been born at all. As one could see, this is just not the size of the problem how much CO2 is in Coca-Cola. This is very series issue in our world. Without nitrogen fertilizers and associated fossil fuels half of human population could not exists. I can read or hear people saying very often lightly, “don’t worry breath easy this does not contribute to AGW”. This might be true for someone who is lucky to be in the first half of the population. What about second half of the population? What we can say to them? Clearly, for this part of population, fossil fuels, nitrogen fertilizers means life or death and being on this planet. I hope my “direct(inhalation) + indirect(inhalation) = life (7.5 billions people on the Earth)” is easier understood now. I am also afraid because looking into world history there were dictatorships that experimented with agriculture. As the results millions of population experienced malnutrition, starving and death. Therefore, wherever we are taking about exhalation/breathing we should be very careful and consider broader full picture so future generations can avoid a catastrophe.


    MA Rodger @141

    In addition to what I wrote above I would like to ad about CaCO3. You right is used to adjust PH of soil. But this is only one part of the story. Soil in order to function properly requires also micro-elements like calcium, magnesium and several others. CaCO3 is also the source of calcium. Calcium is main components of human bones as well as animal bones. Cows are eating grass producing milk reach with calcium that latter is used by humans building their bones. Yes. It is essential for the life on Earth unless you think about species without bones.
    I did not invoke cement production here. Is off-the topic in my argument.

  18. @ 142 antjrk,

    The first plant to use the Haber-Bosch process at industrial scale started in 1913. Over 100 years on nothing much has changed. This is no longer a technilogical breakthrough, but rather antiquated technology that is well known now to cause far more harm than good long term.

    Haber himself new the technology was only a stop-gap when he patented it over a century ago.

    “Nitrogen bacteria teach us that Nature, with her sophisticated forms of the chemistry of living matter, still understands and utilises methods which we do not as yet know how to imitate. Let it suffice that in the meantime improved nitrogen fertilisation of the soil brings new nutritive riches to mankind and that the chemical industry comes to the aid of the farmer who, in the good earth, changes stones into bread.”- Fritz Haber (emphasis mine)

    I absolutely can assure you our knowlege of the chemical processes and nutrient pathways in a healthy functioning soil food web are light years more advanced than when Fritz made that statement. 

    What this means is that the statement, "Without nitrogen fertilizers and associated fossil fuels half of human population could not exist" is a critically flawed logic fallacy. Haber process fertilizer is not required nor even the best way to feed the populace. You have made a false dichotomy that we either use haber process nitrogen, or have no alternatives, and that simply is false.

    Converting to regenerative agriculture not only can easily support the current population, it also would barely scratch the surface of food production potential of the world, for both humans and wildlife. The "side effect" of this sort of agriculture, besides much higher yields per acre, is that copius quantities of carbon become sequestered back into the soil where it belongs. 

    In fact there is far more carbon missing from the soil than extra in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrialized age.

    So not only is the statement a logic fallacy and completely unsupported, this failure of critical thought is also an obsticle to restoring a properly functioning biological carbon cycle that can mitigate AGW.

  19. Antjrk @142 ,

    thank you for expanding your comments : but I do not follow your logic.

    If I understand correctly, the Haber-Bosch process is an economically valuable contributor to "First World" agricultural production ~ but not much in the "Third World" or subsistence farming area.

    Without the Haber-Bosch process, food in the First World would be marginally more expensive.  I doubt I could put a percentage figure to that ~ but when First Worlders look around, you see a great deal of obesity and food waste.

    Without the H-B process, other technologies would have developed, perhaps involving more organic methods and including the wider recycling of sewage.

    For humanity, the cereal crops are the mainstay.  And for that, one could argue that the role of phosphates is more important than the nitrates.

  20. Eclectic @144

    I think you are bringing a very good point “you see a great deal of obesity and food waste.” Obesity might be the sign that is too much food so there should be no need for that much of fertilizer. This is rather social/behavioral and political issue that I would prefer not to go too deep there. Thus, for example I can see a huge waste of food in restaurants. Very often people can’t eat all the food they ordered in restaurant throwing the big portion of it into garbage. For me this is very sad to watch this. Such behavior shows not only lack of regards for human work but additionally produces unnecessary large emission of CO2 to atmosphere. Problem is that many people see food only by the scope of price/pound which is relatively cheap and nothing else. The food we have is a fruit of hard work of many people, and gift of our nature for us to have a life. We are trying to figure out how to decrease CO2 emission yet people are working against this.
    On the other hand approximately 40 millions of people are not able to put food on their table asking for food stamp. In present time of pandemii we can see as well as a huge lines of people at food banks asking for free food because they can’t support their families. All of this is in the first world which knows how to produce enough food. I am worry that increasing food price by changing agriculture might put many more people on food stamp or at food bank. They might consider themselves as be in third world.
    In third world food is expensive or very expensive for much larger part of population than in the first.

    I totally agree that other technologies than H-B could be developed including involving more organic methods and recycling of sewage. But they should be implemented without rising food price so everyone can afford it. This should be based on science not politics.

    “For humanity, the cereal crops are the mainstay. And for that, one could argue that the role of phosphates is more important than the nitrates.”

    I would incline toward nitrates because nitrogen is more basic for human body than phosphor. Every cell of our body contains nitrogen but not every cell contains phosphor.

  21. RedBaron @143

    I am not going to use ocean of ink to defend my case. I will not use words “fallacy’, "anti-herbivore" propaganda, vacuous truth red herring, logic fallacy e.t.c.

    In spite of more than 100 years ago Haber and Bosch invented their process this is still used very widely. As of 2018, the Haber process produces 230 million tonnes of anhydrous ammonia per year.
    Thanks to those two great chemist as well as Nobel laureates billions of people could enjoy their life including me. In past, now and hopefully in the future.
    I never said/write that this process can not be or should not be substituted by different one. In some point of time will be. However, needs to be done extremely carefully base on the scientific not a political merit assuring that there is no tragedy involved and no one is losing his life or experiencing starving. That’s what worry me at most.
    As another example of more than 100 years old invention and still being used, I can give you the Einstein’s theory of relativity. Thanks to him today we could enjoy GPS and no one complains that is so old invention.
    I wish you well.

  22. @146 antjrk,

     Yes, in 2018 the haber process produced 230 tonnes anhydrous ammonia. This is a significant source for AGW. I do not dispute that at all.

    The logic flaw is in assuming that this supports a type of agriculture that is the best yields per acre of food for people, thus required. That is not true. In almost every case maximum yields are better using regenerative methods that do not use haber process nitrogen.  So actually changing agriculture will not risk making even more people starve. In fact the opposite is already happening.

    Since you seem skeptical of this, I will give a real world example. SRI (system of rice intensification) SRI can be done either completely organic or with chemical fertilizers, or often many various degrees between.

    However, the biggest yields, in fact world record yields, all come from farmers using no haber process nitrogen at all.

    India's rice revolution


    This is not a one-off or fluke either. Across the board improved yields. But more importantly to a discussion about global warming, is the dramatic differences in greenhouse gasses between conventional paddy rice production and SRI.

    The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)…
    … is climate-smart rice production


    So changing agriculture to fix the carbon cycle also eliminates the need for haber process nitrogen and also INCREASES  yields per acre. Exactly the opposite as your conclusion based on flawed logic. 

    That's just rice, one of the big three. But the same can also be said for wheat and corn too. Changing methods to all the various new regenerative ag methods INCREASES  yields per acre on average. (usually after about a 3 year recovery period, but in some cases yields surpass those with haber process nitrogen year one)

    Your supposed risk of starving 1/2 the population of the world is completely unsupported. In fact because of the properties of biological carbon in the soil, they actually dramatically reduce  the risk of famine caused by drought or flood and/or a whole host of other stresses.

  23. antjrk,

    This comment thread drifts off-topic and now has more of the feel of an exercise in reinforcing a false & crazy theory than anything else. I will thus break off my participation but with a couple of Parthian shots.

    () While calcium is an essential ingredient of both bones and milk, it is not essential for the dairy industry. If agriculture stopped liming fields this would not result in cattle being unable to form skeletons or provide milk.

    () The CO2 emissions from fertilisers using FF is assessed as 467Tg(CO2)/yr or ~120Mt(C) of a total anthropogenic CO2 emission of 12,000Mt(C). Essential or not (and most here appear unconvinced of your agruments for it being essential), if that 1% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions were to become a major remaining target in the fight against AGW, I would myself consider the climate crisis pretty-much done and dusted.

  24. Antjrk @145 and earlier :-  You are wrong on many points.

    (A)  <"Every cell of our body contains nitrogen but not every cell contains phosphor.">

    Incorrect.   Every human cell contains phosphorus.  Phosphorus compounds are vital structural and nucleic and operational components of living cells.

    (B)  For the subsistence farmers of the Third World, the use of synthetic fertilizer is expensive for them, and gives a risky Value-Cost Ratio.   To quote FAO : "In the case of poor small-scale farmers, the cost of fertilizers can represent a high proportion of the total variable cost of production, an investment that they can particularly ill afford where there is a risk of crop failure."   In consequence, they are usually safer using traditional fertilizing techniques.

    (C)  In rich countries (e.g. USA) one observes that "the poor people are fat".   The price of food "at the farm gate" is small in comparison to the retail price at the shop ~ so an increase in farming cost of produce  (e.g. from loss of the Haber-Bosch nitrogenous fertilizers) will produce only a very small percentage price increase of food for the consumer.

    And the [current 2020 crisis] huge lines of Americans queuing (in rather expensive cars) to get free food at food banks . . . reflects sudden loss of disposable incomes.   Also for the chronic users of "food stamps", this can largely be attributed to the conjunction of low income and high rental/accommodation costs ~ a matter of "social injustice" rather than the cost of Haber-Bosch economics.

    # Antjrk : as MA Rodger points out, your comments have been somewhat off-topic for this thread.  The Haber-Bosch nitrogenous fertilizers produce a negligibly small direct contribution to CO2 in human outbreath.   Which still leaves our readers [including me] wondering if you are going to raise any valid point of disputation.

    But if you do have such a point in the back of your mind, then please bring it forward and explain it clearly.

  25. RedBaron @147
    MA Rodger @148
    Eclectic @149
    Haber-Bosch is still producing 230 millions ton/year synthetic product. I am skeptical that this will be terminated in the next few decades. Therefore, until last Haber-Bosh plant on the earth is shut down my equation: Direct(inhalation) + indirect(inhalation) = life (7.5 billions people on the Earth) will have some merit.

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