We no longer hear of carbon dioxide emissions; instead the climate change lobby has shortened it to carbon emissions. Is this just a convenient abbreviation? We think not. The lobby has also changed the unit of measurement from ppm to metric tons, a perfectly good measure, but think of the image in the minds of the general public.
Image Over Reality
Since the beginning of the global warming scare, the alarmist lobby has proven quite skilled at building scary images. A doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 200 to 400 parts per million (ppm) in a century sounds far more serious than going from 0.02 percent to 0.04 percent of the atmosphere, which is what has occurred, so they use ppm. How much more frightening is hundreds of metric tons of carbon emissions? People picture hundreds of tons of soot, dredging up images of 19th century London and choking air.
Reality Versus Image
This is irrefutable fact: It is absolutely impossible for carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere to divide itself naturally into carbon and oxygen. Only plants do this. In fact, they give the atmosphere some of its oxygen. Contra the Supreme Court and the EPA, both of which are apparently scientifically incompetent, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
Human-caused pollution is a serious problem, and one of us was deeply involved in establishing the EPA in 1971 to manage the problem. People were polluting the air, waterways, and soil with industrial waste and inefficient combustion of our fossil fuels. People were not capturing the impurities in the fuel that produced such gases as sulfur dioxide, which became the infamous acid rain in states to the east of the plants.
The problems were addressed; the EPA did its job. The nation’s air and waterways have been cleansed of those obvious pollutants. The job was done and done well.
One of us has a law named after him (Murphy), with which we are all familiar, and this phenomenon takes many forms. One is, “government agencies never die, they just invent new problems to solve.” Responding to an influx of activist groups, the EPA moved on to new horizons—the control of everything—and in a recent Supreme Court decision it seems to have gotten it. The ruling appears to say any manmade gas put into the atmosphere is a pollutant under the control of the EPA, including every breath we exhale.
As dire predictions of disaster from carbon dioxide have faded away, activists have chosen a new vocabulary; call it carbon and measure it in tons. People don’t want to breathe ground-up pencil lead, or the product of incomplete combustion with inefficient fuels, but we have no problem breathing in carbon dioxide.
Living: The Basics
All life is based on complex hydrocarbons—various combinations of water (H2O) and carbon. Plants take in nutrients from the soil, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and energy from the sun, and through photosynthesis, they grow and the excess released is oxygen. A nice symbiosis! Animals use oxygen, the output of plant metabolism, to metabolize their food into energy. This is a definition of symbiosis, the interdependence of plant and animal life.
Carbon Isn’t Carbon Dioxide
Carbon is a solid molecule, and a stable one. It is graphite, and it is diamond. Carbon dioxide is a gas, and also a stable molecule. It is the combination of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, and it is a necessary part of the life cycle of all plants and animals.
Water is a combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. We can breathe oxygen, and we can fill a balloon with hydrogen and watch it float away into the sky. We can swim in water, H2O, or bathe in it, or drink it. Water is a stable molecule, and a liquid.
The parts are not the whole, and the whole is not the parts. If we ask for a glass of hydrogen, we are not going to get water even though it is di-hydrogen oxide (H2O). In fact, we are not going to get anything, because hydrogen, a gas, can’t be poured into a glass. If we offer a lady a ring with a piece of coal in the setting, we doubt she will be happy even if we sing “Carbon is a Girl’s Best Friend,” even though coal and diamond are both elemental carbon, as is soot.
Carbon and carbon dioxide are not the same thing. The alarmists would have us believe they are. Carbon dioxide is a necessary part of the life cycle; carbon is not.
Alarmists are attempting to scare the populace by speaking of “carbon emissions,” creating an image of air fouled with soot instead of properly calling it carbon dioxide, the natural emission of all combustion and animal metabolisms and the natural fuel of all plant life. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a necessary part of the symbiosis between plant and animal that has served us well for about a billion years.
Remember that when you hear the president and other alarmists talk about carbon pollution. It is a classic case of using words to deceive.
Jay Lehr is ([email protected]) science director of The Heartland Institute. Jon Murphy @murphsays.com) is a retired psychologist.