Our President Needs a Science Lesson

Of his new plan to address climate change, President Obama says:

This plan will cut the dangerous carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. For years, groups like the American Lung Association have warned us that carbon pollution threatens our health and the air our children breathe. We limit the mercury, sulfur, and arsenic in our air and water, but today, there are no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can pump into the air. That’s not safe. So we’ll work with states and businesses to set new standards that put an end to this limitless dumping of carbon.

Ummm, well …

  • The problem is not “carbon”, it’s carbon dioxide, CO2.
  • Unlike mercury, sulfur and arsenic, carbon dioxide is not toxic.
  • Carbon dioxide is necessary for photosynthesis. It is an input in green plant respiration; oxygen is an output. Higher CO2 concentrations stimulate plant growth.
  • Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at current levels around 400 ppm (0.04% concentration) cannot “threaten our health and the air our children breathe.”
  • The carbon dioxide concentration of the air we exhale is 4 to 5.3%, over 100 times the concentration in the air we inhale.
  • The American Lung Association’s position (pdf link) supports the EPA’s stricter carbon dioxide emission standards because of Global Warming, not because of concerns over toxicity or health-damaging air quality. They think Global Warming will lead to increased levels of smog and ozone.

And it’s the Climate Change community who accuse skeptics of being anti-science?

Cross-posted.

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4 Responses to Our President Needs a Science Lesson

  1. Gary Holman says:

    Steve,
    I am a fan of your red state columns, but I have I have to say that my impression is that this article does come across as flawed science. I hate Obama just as much as the next conservative, but saying the president needs a science lesson and offering a weak science rebuttal will only keep us behind in the climate debate.

    First, Obama said “carbon pollution”. Everyone knows that carbon pollution is basically synonymous with carbon dioxide. Obama was obviously not talking about carbon itself. He is a complete idiot but I doubt he is that dumb.

    Another issue: “carbon dioxide is not toxic. EPA wants to regulate it because it is a greenhouse gas.” and “The American Lung Association’s position supports the EPA’s stricter carbon dioxide emission standards because of Global Warming, not because of concerns over toxicity or health-damaging air quality.”

    A quick look at the American Lung Associations website and under climate change their position obviously includes health risks: “Pollution from heavy traffic also contributes to increased risk of respiratory problems which could lead to premature death.”
    source: http://www.lung.org/associations/states/california/advocacy/climate-change/

    The reason they think increased CO2 in the atmosphere causes health risks is not CO2 itself, but how it can possibly create a rise in ozone or other chemicals that do pose health risks. The idea is called the jacobson effect. Source: http://www.localcleanenergy.org/resources/the-jacobson-effect

    As an energy guy I’m sure you know CO2 is not the only product of combustion. Power Plants emit hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and (in coal plants that are uncontrolled) soot which are all carbon based molecules and compounds that can be harmful.

    Why do we conservatives take the anti-climatechange position and ignite more anger from liberals claiming we are anti-science? I think the best position we can take is agnostic. That we are unsure of the scientific consensus for climate change and we think regulation would pose a heavy burden on our economic recovery. Or maybe we could try for deregulation or lowering corporate taxes so companies can spend more of their resources towards R&D in clean air energy. Or that regulation nationally will only have a minuscule effect globally. Etc.

    I think taking a position where the science is irrelevant because regulation will prove ineffective is a much better approach that I hope can erode the false idea that conservatives are anti-science.

    -Gary

    • Steve Maley says:

      Your comments are well-taken, Gary. Thanks.

      As for what the president said, he was talking about coal fired electricity generation, and his solution is to replace it with something a lot more expensive and still impacting the environment.

      His remarks were clearly designed to leave the impression that CO2 is toxic. EPA regulates mercury, arsenic and sulfur, and they want to regulate carbon dioxide on the same basis. They don’t mention carbon monoxide, ozone etc.

      My feelings about global warming are summarized here:

      I believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The data indicates to me that the earth’s climate system is very complicated and not well understood, and that equations that describe the warming due to x% CO2 in the atmosphere are inaccurate. There are as-yet undiscovered or under appreciated mechanisms that are dampening the warming that the climate scientists expect.

      To be a global warming advocate of climate action, you must believe all of the following to be true:
      1. The earth is warming, and
      2. Man-made CO2 is the cause, and
      3. The earth’s climate mechanisms are understood well enough to allow accurate forecasts of future conditions, and
      4. There is something we can do about it, and
      5. The cure is worth the cost, and
      6. If we screw something up it can be undone.

      Those “ands” are killers. They must all be true or we’re better off doing nothing.

      I break down around #2. I think the earth is probably warming slightly. I think MMCO2 may be a contributing factor. I think natural mechanisms resist change. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it anyway, and I’m not convinced the cure is better than the disease.

      Again, thanks for reading.

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