Carbon Dioxide is NOT Air Pollution

Last weekend I noticed something that I had missed literally for years.  Just about any story that discusses carbon dioxide and global warming includes a smokestack photo.   The photo shows visible air pollution….the unsaid message, visible air pollution and carbon dioxide are one and the same.  WRONG.

I will never understand how carbon dioxide, a necessary ingredient for life on earth, got labeled as a  pollutant, but it did.   The BBC ran a story on Kyoto that included the following photo:

The Huffington Post wrote an article touting carbon emissions at a 20 year low that included the following photo:

Carbon dioxide is colorless.   The articles are about carbon dioxide, but the photos are showing air pollution.   If the stack just had carbon dioxide coming out of it, there would be no visible smoke.   Air pollution is a serious health and welfare issue, and it is a cooling rather than a warming agent.

Since air pollution is not colorless, it blocks the sun, reducing the amount of energy that reaches the surface, a cooling event.  Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (like Methane and water vapor) are colorless so they allow more energy to reach the surface.  They then trap some of that energy as it is reflected back to space, a warming event.

If we didn’t have greenhouse gases, we would all freeze to death.

Air pollution from Chinese coal fired power plants make the air in Shanghai filthy.  Sure there’s some carbon dioxide involved….but the serious health issue is the cancer causing toxins in the exhaust that are polutants.  If the power had been generated using natural gas there would have been no toxins and 50% less carbon.  There is technology available to remove  toxins from coal exhaust, but too many plants in China don’t even try.

When I see a smokestack photo in a carbon dioxide article, I become a bit perturbed.   Why has this photo has been included?

Al Gore did the exact same thing for his cover art used to sell the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth.   Mr. Gore loves to equate air pollution to carbon dioxide, it’s a factually incorrect recurring theme in the film.

Carbon Dioxide probably does contribute to the warming of our planet,  but it is not a pollutant.

Pollution is defined as the contamination of air, water, or soil by substances that are harmful to living organisms.  Carbon dioxide is not harmful to living organisms.   Increased carbon dioxide probably makes the world a bit warmer than it otherwise would be….but warm is not necessarily bad.

We live in a stable warm part of the ice age called the Holocene.  For the last 11,000 years it has been warmer than the average of the last 2 million years.  Lots warmer.  Here is a graph of Holocene temperatures

Today the world is a bit colder than it was 8000 years ago.  Both the medieval warming period and the little ice age represent extremes in the last 1000 years that are not man caused.  Why are we supposed to be worrying about the last 60 years of this chart?

For carbon dioxide to be considered a pollutant it must be harmful to living organisms.   Carbon dioxide — harmful — I don’t thinks so.

Carbon dioxide and water are both necessary for life on earth and both are greenhouse gases.   Greenhouse gases keep the planet from being very cold at night.   Any argument for carbon dioxide as a pollutant must do two things.

  • It must more fully explain why water vapor, a much more important greenhouse gas, is not a pollutant too.
  • It must  learn how to model climate much better.   Today, climate models start less than 200 years ago and go hundreds of years into the future (wild extrapolation)…that’s way too short a period given the natural climate variation of the last 1000 years.

Generally throughout history, warm has been good, cold has been bad.  Today the earth is a bit colder than it was 8000 years ago, Why is that too warm?  Was the world too warm 130,000 years ago when it was much warmer than it is today?  The argument for calling carbon dioxide a pollutant must assume it is possible to have too much of a good thing.  But how much is too much?

Aaaahhh.  That’s the big question.

Advertisements

3 responses to “Carbon Dioxide is NOT Air Pollution

  1. The way I learned it, pollution wasn’t the presence of something bad. Instead, it was too much of a good thing.

    • The argument calling carbon dioxide a pollutant uses the too much of a good thing approach. My experience says that a unique exception to the rule. Most things that are considered air pollution are harmful all the time. Toxins in coal fired power plants are a good example of what I consider air pollution. Or fluorocarbons. They harmed the ozone directly. I don’t think either coal exhaust toxins or fluorocarbons would be considered beneficial in small quantities.

  2. I suppose many things are both beneficial and harmful. Fertilizer improves crop yields, but can damage the water supply if over applied. The world is full of things that benefit man in one way and harm him in another. The fertilizer example is a relatively easy to evaluate situation. Carbon dioxide in the environment is a challenging science problem that is difficult to solve with societies current knowledge base.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s