Subscribe to New Scientist

Home | Opinion


Wonderful carbon dioxide

RELAX. Don't do it. Don't cut carbon dioxide, it's good for the planet. This must be true: it says so in the respected Financial Post newspaper in Canada, no longer owned by Conrad Black.

Lawrence Solomon, described as "executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers", writes in the Post (7 June) that "Planet Earth is on a roll! GPP [gross primary production] is way up. NPP [net primary production] is way up... Biomass is booming. The planet is the greenest it's been in decades, perhaps in centuries."

"The results surprised Steven Running of the University of Montana and Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA," Solomon writes. The use to which Solomon puts their results may well surprise them, too, given that Running in particular is vociferous about the dangers of climate change. Apparently referring to a 2004 paper by Running, Nemani and colleagues, Solomon says that "over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2 per cent". He leaps gleefully to the conclusion that governments cutting CO2 emissions could lead to "food production dropping worldwide", and would make "the countless ecological niches on which living creatures depend stressed".

Is the post for a synthetic research chemist advertised in the UK edition of New Scientist (7 June, p 61) anything to do with the 'genetically modified humans' cover story in the same issue?" asks Tony Budd

"CO2," he writes, "is nature's fertilizer, bathing the biota with its life-giving nutrients." For a moment there we thought we were being told about a tantric tachyon wrinkle cream. However, the nutrients he's talking about can only be, well, just carbon really. The change in biomass, Running and Nemani actually report, is largely due to sunnier days in the Amazon and nothing to do with any "life-giving nutrients" in CO2 or anything else.

What's more, burgeoning biomass may be good for some species (like trees in the Amazon), but is not necessarily good for others - like, for example, the one Solomon belongs to - for crop yields are not booming, as Debora MacKenzie has reported in New Scientist (14 June, p 28).

Then we read a phrase that demonstrates the depth of Solomon's understanding: "The extent and diversity of plant and animal life have both increased substantially during the past half-century." If diversity really had increased in such a blink of an evolutionary eye, then we'd worry. Our first question would be: what happened to mutation rates? Are we looking at six-legged polar bears?

For menstruating men

IN THE US you can buy a medication called Pamprin over the counter. According to the label, it is for "the temporary relief of these symptoms associated with menstrual periods: cramps, headaches, bloating, backaches, water-weight gain, muscular aches, irritability".

Diana Lutz's daughter was concerned, however, about the additional instruction to "ask a doctor before use" if you have "difficulty in urination due to enlargement of the prostate gland".

She wants to know whether men have sympathetic periods, in the way that they have sympathetic pregnancies.

Advertising to aliens

IT MAY sound like good, clean fun to transmit advertisements to our neighbours in the galaxy, but surely it will end in tears.

After a heavily promoted contest, the Doritos Broadcast Project transmitted a 30-second video advertisement on 15 June from the EISCAT (European Incoherent Scatter) radar transmitter in Svalbard, Norway, to a sun-like star system 42 light years away in the constellation Ursa Major.

"We are constantly looking to push the boundaries of advertising, and this will go further than any brand has gone before," says project head Peter Charles. What's more, as the first advertisement broadcast outside the solar system, it will be entered on the list of Guinness World Records. The project boasts endorsements from authorities ranging from Darren Wright, an astronomer at the University of Leicester, UK, to Nick Pope, former head of the UK Ministry of Defence's UFO project.

"We shouldn't be too surprised if the first aliens start arriving on planet Earth immediately demanding a bag of Doritos," says Charles.

Feedback doubts that. This is exactly the sort of thing that can get Earth blacklisted by the Galactic Communications Commission. It is likely to send some bug-eyed bureaucrat in a flying saucer to tell us to turn it off "NOW" or they'll vaporise the transmitters.

Deer who need handkerchiefs

FINALLY: "I often mistype 'does not' as 'doe snot'," Bernie Broom tells us. He points out that this quite legitimately passes the spell check. "Using a well-known web search engine," he continues, "I found tens of thousands of pages with the same phrase. I'm gradually working my way through them to see if I can find one that's about deer, or rabbits. I'll get back to you if I do."

We wait with bated breath - unlike a previous occasion (10 May), when we waited with "baited" breath, to the amusement of many readers.

Issue 2663 of New Scientist magazine
  • Subscribe to New Scientist and you'll get:
  • New Scientist magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to all New Scientist online content -
    a benefit only available to subscribers
  • Great savings from the normal price
  • Subscribe now!

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

Have your say
Comments 1 | 2


Sat Jul 05 11:03:41 BST 2008 by Iain Salisbury

I doubt that even Conrad Black would maintain that carbon monoxide is good for anyone. Or that "gross primary production" should be abbreviated by GGP.

On the subject of typos, as a very "right-handed" person - about as far from ambidextrous as it's possible to get without amputation - I find my right hand often overtakes my left while typing. Particularly if my mind is on the subject matter rather than the mechanics of the task. I wonder if this is common?

Doe Snot

Mon Jul 07 17:20:26 BST 2008 by Mike

I have to admit, I am fart oo busy tow orry about typographickal miss takes featureing in my commments.

Comments 1 | 2

All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.

If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.


Latest news

Masterworks in Petri dishes

12:25 16 December 2009

Dangerous, yes; useful, sometimes; works of art – no. But this gallery of the best microbial artworks might change your mind

Martin Rees: Getting to the right desks in government

10:17 16 December 2009

As the Royal Society enters its 350th year, its president says its mission is to speak up for science to public and politicians alike

Small fingers give women a sensitive touch

22:00 15 December 2009

Women have a more sensitive touch than men, but only because their fingers are usually smaller

Locked-in man controls speech synthesiser with thoughtAudio Speaker

18:20 15 December 2009

If the repertoire of signals the brain implant can translate is widened, it could revolutionise communication for people with complete paralysis


New Scientist is on Twitter

Get the latest from New Scientist: sign up to our Twitter feed



We are partnered with Approved Index. Visit the site to get free quotes from website designers and a range of web, IT and marketing services in the UK.

Login for full access