Lately, the beneficial natural substance Co2 (Carbon Dioxide) has been maligned by some politicians and the major media as a dangerous toxic gas. As if Co2 were somehow harmful to plants and animals, at anything near its current atmospheric concentrations. Certainly, most animals can die if exposed to too high a concentration for too long, but that can be said of good ol’ Oxygen and Nitrogen, as well. Therefore, the people trying to malign Co2 must be using some other scientifically unsound argument. Ah yes: Global Warming.
Co2 is a dangerous “greenhouse gas” which is primed to destroy the global habitat, if greedy humans do not stop heating and cooling their homes, transporting & delivering their foodstuffs and medicines in timely fashion and doing many more things of that nature. The activities which generate Co2, seem to be exactly the same activities which increase prosperity, lengthen and enrich lifespans, heal the sick, feed the hungry and expand the breadth & scope of human knowledge. It would seem that the people who want to “outlaw” Co2, also want to limit the prosperity and opportunities which come with abundant, affordable energy.
Furthermore, Co2 is by no means something foreign or detrimental to the natural world. It is neither a synthetic poison mixed up in a lab, nor a toxic gas waiting to paralyze its victims at the slightest whiff. Co2, chemically speaking, is one Carbon atom bonded to two Oxygen atoms. Also, despite being the textbook definition of a “trace element” insofar as parts per million (PPM) is concerned, it is the fourth most abundant gas in our atmosphere; a ranking it has enjoyed for several hundred millennia.
In the human body, an atom of Carbon is attached to an O2 atom via osmosis in the lungs, as a way to eliminate a waste product. Humans exhale Co2 by the bucket, as do all animals on the planet which breathe air. After which, in a beautifully balanced dance of chemical interactions, trees and other plants take in the Co2 molecule then steal the carbon atom to use in their growth, liberating the Oxygen for some needy animal to inhale. Interestingly, as Co2 concentrations rise, plants get greener, more robust and better able to exchange it for O2.
Normal concentrations of Co2 outdoors can range anywhere from 250 to 350 ppm. Expressed as a percentage, that means Co2 averages 0.00035 percent of the atmosphere, on the high end. Indoors, if there are people exhaling, Co2 concentrations can become much higher; up to 1000 and 2000 ppm, depending on available air exchange and ventilation. Co2 levels are not considered immediately harmful, until they reach over 40,000 ppm. Nevertheless, politicians and certain media types want to label a beneficial natural substance as a dangerous toxic gas, because they insist it is a key element in global warming.
Co2 does in fact serve as a necessary – and benign – agent for temperature mediation and regulation. However, Co2’s primary role in the upper atmosphere is to reflect heat energy away from the earth, not let it pass then hold it all in. A recent NASA study confirmed that virtually every quantum of heat generating radiation put out by sun, is stopped from entering the lower atmosphere, by beneficial CO2. The real culprit in the Greenhouse Gas equation is another equally harmless substance: Water vapor.
Water vapor plays a critical role in the moderation of the earth’s climate. If there were no water vapor in our atmosphere, the earth’s temperatures would be like those of the moon. If the atmosphere was just nitrogen and oxygen, it would become blisteringly hot at the equator during the day, then almost freezing at night. The poles would remain brutally frigid all year round, regardless of the earth’s axial tilt. Without water vapor holding and radiating the sun’s warmth at night, temperatures would descend to freezing, nightly; those swings between night and day would be so exaggerated, that complex organisms – anything beyond microbes – would never survive.
Water absorbs infrared (IR) radiation better than any other atmospheric element, while remaining virtually transparent to the visible wavelengths. Almost all of the carbon dioxide absorption amounts to practically zero. The IR absorption rate of carbon dioxide on solar irradiance is absolutely immaterial, because water vapor absorption is virtually 100 percent — with no contribution from Co2 worth measuring. To reiterate: Co2 is infinitely less of a “greenhouse gas” than water vapor, and no one is suggestion we cut back on water.
There are also some practical matters to be addressed, as to the levels of Co2 humanity creates, by virtue of the energy obtained in its production. Centuries ago, heat was produced exclusively by burning wood, one of the dirtiest fuels possible. Natural gas, oil, coal and the refined hydrocarbons which make up our modern fuel sources, produce far greater BTUs at far lower Co2 emissions.
The most terrible shortage humans face is not hydrocarbons, it is arable land and fresh water. The more acreage used to produce energy, the less land available for species habitat, watersheds, agriculture, housing, recreation, forestation and all of the natural wilderness people seem to cherish.
The answer to the global warming problem, seems to lay in junk science and politically motivated hair-brained schemes: Ethanol, for instance, designates cropland for the production of an inefficient fuel, which is manufactured inefficiently. Add to that, the unintended consequence of making food more scarce and expensive for the poor. If all of America’s transportation fuel was biofuel, it would require 30 percent more acreage than all of the current farmland in the nation, and nothing edible could be produced.
In Brazil and Malaysia, really cheap labor makes producing biofuels more economically viable. Unfortunately, at the cost of clear-cutting rainforest. All while failing to reduce Co2 emissions, which was how ethanol was sold to people, in the first place. Clear-cutting a rainforest to produce biofuels, releases 17 to 420 times more Co2 than it purportedly saves by replacing coal or oil.
As for wind and solar, they are several decades away from meeting anything like the energy efficiency and output of current hydrocarbon technologies. Neither one can reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons, anyway. Oil is used for transportation, not for electricity; there are currently no wind powered jumbo airliners on anyone’s drawing boards. Moreover, to meet the electrical energy generation necessary to power America, wind farms would require the square mile area of Kazakhstan, while solar panels would need to take up the same land mass as Spain.
In summation: Co2 is a necessary, beneficial, natural substance, and the people trying to tell everyone it is a dangerous, toxic gas would do better to attempt to ban water.
Editorial by Ben Gaul
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