Carbon Dioxide Is Not Good for Us: And Other Climate Truths

Posted on May 12, 2014
Posted By: Jessica Kennedy
 

Opinions about the merits of fossil fuels and the importance of exhausting those resources seem to be infiltrating mainstream media lately.  It is an effort to push back against the environmental and climate change activists that are becoming ever more vocal about why and how we need to phase out fossil fuels.  “Climate denial” as it is called, seems to be an effort to discredit scientifically-backed warnings of climate change disaster, harmful health effects linked to pollution, and the evaporation of our world’s resources, animal species, and viable natural habitats.  Al Gore was perhaps a little too optimistic when he titled his 2006 Academy Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.  It is inconvenient when your car won’t start.  Climate change: intensifying storms, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, heat waves, droughts, and destruction of the earth’s natural ecosystems, isn’t inconvenient; it’s completely ruinous.

It is unfortunate that there is an audience for claims that environmental degradation and climate change are alarmist farces.  I can understand why, however.  It is easier to pretend a problem does not exist than to muster the strength to solve it.  I would love to ignore any negative consequences of my energy use and fuel consumption.  It would be great if materials like discarded plastics and hazardous waste would just disappear without any ill effects on the environment.  (Luckily, this guy is here to put things in perspective).

Since climate change is a problem that will challenge us for generations, we need to get some things straight:

1 – THE WORLD’S CURRENT RATE OF CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT NATURAL.

Yes, the earth’s climate is constantly in flux.  The temperature and carbon content of Earth’s atmosphere can be studied dating back hundreds of thousands of years, and results show that the earth’s climate vacillates between periods of warming and cooling, along with differing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Graph illustrating both annual and five year average earth surface temperature since 1880. 
Source: NASA.gov

Graph illustrating annual global CO2 emissions in gigatons per year since 1850
Source: NASA.gov

These graphs from NASA illustrate that trends in both average global temperature and carbon dioxide emissions have been rising for over a century.  This period also coincides with the explosive growth of industry around the world, when humans began burning enormous amounts of coal and oil to fuel economic progress and innovation.

The climbing temperature trend corresponds almost perfectly with the charted explosion in CO2 emissions, particularly in the last fifty years.  The relationship between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature is clear, and a host of studies support CO2 emissions as a direct contributor to rising temperatures.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects even more extreme warming trends to come if action is not taken to limit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

2 – CLIMATE CHANGE IN NOT JUST AN ENVIRONMENTALIST ISSUE.

Unless you do not live on this planet, climate change is your issue too.  Environmentalists are certainly some of the most outspoken supporters of climate change mitigation, but a shifting climate is important to every living creature on this earth.  A radically changing climate is not going to destroy the planet, but it has strong potential to destroy the majority of life on the planet (that includes us).

The chance that humanity can survive a world of superstorms, rising sea levels, droughts, coastal flooding, extreme temperatures, a new ice age, and a collapsed economy is very bleak.  While the planet will adjust to the changing climate, and possibly even regenerate new life, as it has done before in mass extinction events, humans will surely lose the battle for survival.

By taking action to limit the greenhouse gases we pour into our atmosphere, we are protecting our own livelihood.

3 – MORE CARBON DIOXIDE IS NOT GOING TO MAKE OUR PLANTS GROW BIGGER.

This statement isn’t entirely false, but the idea that CO2 pollution from power plants and other sources will spur plant growth is purely a myth.  Such a fabrication is particularly damaging because instead of simply ignoring the deleterious effects of greenhouse gases to our climate, it actually indicates that CO2 is good for the atmosphere.

While CO2 must be in our air in order for plant life to thrive and continue to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, the amount of CO2 required to fuel those chemical reactions at a healthy, and even accelerated pace is nowhere near the amount of CO2 that comes from the smokestacks of your neighborhood power plant.  Plant size is also heavily dependent on water, nutrient availability, sunlight, and even oxygen levels.  Increasing amounts of carbon in our atmosphere could add a little weight to our foliage, but the idea that it will supercharge our cornfields is considerably misguided.

Laboratory experiments have shown some evidence that plant growth benefits from an increased amount of CO2 in the air, but these conditions only exist in artificial laboratory settings.  The real world is a bit different.

The carbon dioxide humans emit through burning fossil fuels rises high into the atmosphere where it adds to the greenhouse gases that warm the earth.  Carbon dioxide has a very long life in the atmosphere, and once it is present in the upper boundary portion of the troposphere (the layer of our atmosphere nearest to Earth), it continues to enhance the greenhouse effect for hundreds of years before it finally dissipates entirely.  Since plants don’t live in the very top region of the troposphere (called the tropopause), they are unable to absorb any of that excess CO2.  

One last surprising, but important, truth about climate change is that fossil fuels are not necessarily the “bad guys.”  It is the way humans have used these fuels without considering the social and environmental costs of the pollution we create by burning them.  There is no reason fossil fuels cannot continue to help us generate the energy we depend on, but we need to use them responsibly.  Several technologies like carbon capture and clean coal have emerged as ways to clean up our fossil fuels, but energy efficiency is the most effective (and cheapest) way to limit our carbon footprint.  Fighting climate change really can be as simple as paying close attention to the way you use (and conserve) energy.

 
 
Authored By:
Jessica Kennedy has worked in the energy industry since 2008. She earned her bachelor's degree in English from the State University of New York at Geneseo. She earned her master's degree in Physical Geography & Environmental Systems from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Jessica's primary area of study is environmental conservation and climate change. Jessica is also an avid reader, painter, and guitar player.
 

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Comments

May, 12 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Let's pretend, Jessica. Let's pretend that you are one of my brilliant women students - and there were many - and you came to me for a couple of minutes of advice. What would I tell you?.

I would tell you that carbon capture - i.e carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) - is a lie and a scam, and you should never mention it when in the presence of intelligent people. If an example is required, I would suggest the caper proposed by the Swedish utility Vattenfall in Germany. For your information, Vattenfall is one of the largest energy companies in Europé, and they circulated grotesque lies about CCS in conjunction with their activities in Germany that were believed by innocent men and women, to include innocent men and women employed by that Enterprise. The last that I Heard of them, they bought a Company in Holland for an amount of Money equal to the entire Swedish Health-care budget, and that might turn out to be the worst deal in Swedish business history.

May, 13 2014

Richard Vesel says

Ms. Kennedy,

The tone of your article is good - puts the denialists in their place, but some corrections are needed. Graph 2 is not global emissions levels, that is just US, the good old USA. Global emission levels are closing in on 30GT per year, not 8.

Secondly, Professor Banks is totally correct. Current commercial AND lab bench technologies hold no promise on the scale that we need them. They are far too expensive and impractical, and the only companies that like the approach are the equipment manufacturers, and the coal companies, who stand to sell even MORE coal to compensate for the energy-intensive CCS processes. That road is a technological dead end. (Using captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, for example, just allows us to pump up more fossil fuels to the surface and burn THEM too - how dumb is that?)

Without massive reductions in global per capita CO2 emissions, and with only moderate population growth to 2100, atmospheric CO2 is most assuredly going to hit 550-600ppm. If we go about business as usual on both fronts, we are looking at TRIPLE those numbers, which would insure a mean temperature rise of at least 6-deg C, with horrific consequences.

I would like to suggest to all the denialists that they invest their amassed fortunes and life-savings in ocean waterfront properties around the world, so that we can have the posthumous pleasure of seeing their fortunes disappear under the waves permanently.

Regards, RWVesel

May, 13 2014

Richard Vesel says

Correction: I see that Graph 2 represents GT of carbon, not CO2, so the units are technically correct. However, I would suggest that we are not emitting elemental carbon as particles, we are emitting CO2 gas (and methane, CH4, as well), and that should be what is represented in the graph.

RWV

May, 13 2014

Bob Ashworth says

The first graph seems incorrect, there has been no increase in global temperature from 2002 on. CFCs destruction of ozone caused the stratosphere to cool some 1.4C and the earth temperature to rise some 0.6C. That is what caused the warming from 1966 to 2002. The Montreal Protocol stopped CFC production in developed countries in 2000 and the ozone is started slowly to replenish itself. It will be very slow because 1 CFC can destroy 100,000 ozone molecules during its life up there. Don't you remember the UV light scare back in time. UV light is only some 7% of sunlight but the energy in UV light is greater than visible light which makes up some 40% of sunlight.

CO2 and all other gases and dust in the atmosphere cool our planet. The same atmosphere that reflects energy from our atmosphere back to the earth is the same atmosphere that reflects the suns energy back to space. The energy from the sun is some 1365 Watts/square meter and that from the earth is some 342 Watts/square meter. The overall effect is cooling. Sure wish the so called climate scientists knew how to make a mass and energy balance. They are looking at only one-half of the energy balance. Guess they don't know we get out energy from the sun.

The US EPA is regulating manmade CO2 which is orders of magnitude beyond stupid. The manmade CO2 being generated in the United States in 2010 that contributes to the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 16.4% of the worldwide manmade total and that calculates to be (11.5*0.164) = 1.9 ppmv. The CO2 release from Medieval Warming has caused CO2 in the atmosphere to rise some 2 ppmv per year from 1993 to 2011. So if you eliminated all manmade CO2 from the U.S. today, next year at this time it would be the same as this year before the CO2 emissions were stopped.

Go ahead you pseudo-scientists make a big deal about absolutely nothing!!!!!!!

May, 13 2014

T Conroy says

On my humble opinion, the best political strategy to tackle global warming is not by trying to convince people that it is happening. Politically, climate theory is not well enough developed, is too easily obfuscated, and does not impact people directly. Our history, at least in the USA, is that we do tackle visible pollutants fairly aggressively but not invisible pollutants. Coal plant precipitators, SOX scrubbers, paper plants dicharges into rivers, etc. have all been pretty cleaned up. We now need to tackle invisible pollutants. I think the more effective strategy would be to talk about mercury hot spots downstream of coal power plants, talk about ozone in cities, talk about how pollution does not stop at the boundaries of wealthy meighborhoods. We have extremely strong momentum in the developing world to use fossil fuels more efficiently, and the phaseout of our US/Europe coal plants is happening at an unprecendented speed. Alternative automotive fuels are making absolutely remarkable progress. I do not think that "global warming" is a great political tactic, and suggest that there are many obvious pollutants that people experience directly and are more likely to rally around....and the ultimate result we are all seeking is the same.

May, 13 2014

Ian McQueen says

Jessica- This is a sad load of rubbish. You apparently know nothing about the reality of global systems and can be counted among the many assumerists who assume that what they have read about AGW is true and that all they have to do is sit back and suggest ways to solve the "problem" (a problem that does not exist). In this article you blame "climate change" for: intensifying storms, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, heat waves, droughts, and destruction of the earth’s natural ecosystems. Not one of these assertions will stand up to a closer look: -if the world did warm, the polar regions would warm faster reducing the temperature difference between polar and equatorial regions, and with that the energy for storms; -sea level has been rising at a steady rate for the past couple of centuries, No increase. If anything there has been a recent decrease; -if you go along with the "ocean acidification" story in circulation you have not studied chemistry. Learn about buffering (and the complex reactions that follow after CO2 is dissolved in sea water); -heat waves are no more prevalent than in the past, but our media have increased their coverage after which the alarmists have gone to town with their usual exaggerations; -droughts come and go. It's known as the variability of weather; -as for "destruction of the earth’s natural ecosystems" I don't even know what this means. Jessica, study some genuine science and then come back to talk with us. The world stopped warming up to 17 years ago, and some experts say that we may be heading into a cooling period. IanM

May, 13 2014

Jessica Kennedy says

Unfortunately, climate denial does not change the facts of climate change on which there is an overwhelming scientific consensus (John Oliver recently summed it up best I think). The problem is there whether we like it or not.

May, 13 2014

Jessica Kennedy says

I agree on the feasibility issues surrounding CCS as well. It is not a likely "solution" but rather a passing fad approach. It is being implemented however, so I figured it was worth a mention. Some systems are already operating (for better or worse I guess).

May, 13 2014

Richard Goodwin, Ph. D., P.E. says

Climate control policies should be based not only on peer review science but sound economic Shale gas has provided the economic impetus to convert several GW of coal-fired base load capacity in the USA. On the other hand, the high cost of Gasprom natural gas has provided a sales opportunity for USA coal export. I agree with the comments on ‘Retrofitting for Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS] using Integrated Gasificatio Combined Cycle IGCC]]’ Please realize that IGCC with CCS is 50% > conventional coal-fired plants. The Edwardsport IGCC incorporatesing CCS, has just been operating for a few months, but is CAPEX ~ $$5100/kw. Compare this cost to Sunflower’s expected CAPEX ~$3310/KW. Capital Cost of CCS its at least 30% and, based on above analysis, 50% greater than conventional advanced coal-fired power plants. Electric utilities must determine if the interest payments on higher CAPEX for CCS can be recovered via rate increases and if the cost of Natural Gas exceeds $6/MMBTU the minimum tipping point for new coal-fired vs. new NG plant construction i.e. lower fuel costs offset the higher debt service. Natural Gas is expected to stay between $4-4.5/MMBUT until 2020. At this level electrical utilities will continue to switch to natural gas. Developing countries e.g. China, India, Eastern Europe may continue to rely on coal for energy until natural gas or LNG becomes cost-competitive. Also Cost of Piping Captured CO2 to Geological Suitable Sites Remains a Concern

What to do with captured CO2 represents another complication with added costs. Enhanced Oil Recovery [EOR] is site specific (i.e. location of suitable oil field) and CO2 generated from coal-fired power exceeds identifiable oil reserves by two orders-of-magnitude – justifying geological burial of capture CO2 as fall-back scenario. Specific geological conditions, exhibiting adequate permeability and porosity with a suitable cap rock [serving as containment] may not be available to coal plant and transport will be required. Transport of captured CO2 to a geologically favorable site will entail higher costs. Besides the cost of storing and transport, the public will undoubtedly raise concerns regards safety and environmental issues – prolonging public approval process and increasing the final plant cost and subsequent cost of generated electricity. Given Natural Gas pricing at under $6/MMBTU for most of this decade, CCS costs cannot be economically justified. In 2008 when Natural Gas prices were over $12/MMBTU coal-fired plants seemed economically viable based upon levelized Capital and Operating Costs. Since CCS adds about 30% to the cost of coal-fired power plants, Natural Gas prices would have to exceed $16/MMBTU for a new coal-fired power plant equipped with Carbon Capture and Sequestration to be economically viable – not to be expected until after 2030 per USEIA.

Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL

May, 13 2014

Atanacio Luna says

Excellent summary of the issue, and except for the parochial denialist comments, the other comments are well informed and reasoned. Its edifying to read the comments as much as the article. There is a way to get the CO2 out of the troposphere. Pluvinergy circulates air almost to the tropopause. Certainly competent theorists will design ways to get it that high. One of its main energy sources is the greater molecular velocity at elevation, its how it causes circulation. Look up potential temperature to understand this concept. If it can cause downdrafts, it does in the lab, then it can cause circulation. But removing the CO2 may not be necessary. We may get the best of all worlds from the technology. When Pluvinergy is widely deployed it may cool the planet too much. Although it can also warm the planet by placing H2O at elevation, fossil fuel CO2 may be a more elegant way to achieve the same objective.

May, 14 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Evidently, somebody has forgotten how to read English. Carbon Capture and Sequestration is a scam and a lie. Jeffry Michel, probably the best energy Economist in Germany calls it a thermodynamic travesty, but I am willing to settle for just 'travesty'. Also, somebody has been Reading the wrong newspapers, because the cost of Gazprom goodies is adjusted to the market price - the one based on supply and demand in the broadest sense.

And Mr Ashworth, tomorrow or the next day I will be publishing a paper on this site which has to do with a possible intention to increase exports of U.S. oil and gas. I hope that every scientist and pseudo-scientist informs me that I am mistaken when I claim that exporting America's energy advantage is off the wall..Too goofy for Words.

May, 14 2014

Michael Keller says

Odd how no matter what the atmospheric condition, it's caused by too much CO2 according to the green "religion". Too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too stormy, etc, etc. "mankind did it".

Anybody who believes they have figured out the non-linear complexities of the planet's climate is an arrogant, narcissistic fool. Further, using "consensus" for actual science is the height ignorance and the calling card of the intolerant unable to stand the sunshine of logic and inquiry seeking to uncover the truth, no matter where it may lead.

Appears we are all well along in the Green Inquisition's attempts to silence the non-believers. Ah yes Vessel et al, let's burn the "denialists" at the stake. That will certainly purify their heathen, evil souls.

Meanwhile, back on the actual planet, the earth's average temperature has been more-or-less stable for some +17 years, completely contrary to the climate models that predicted imminent catastrophe. The logical man concludes that perhaps the hysteria of the "green" movement has been manufactured and a more reasoned approach is in order.

May, 15 2014

Joseph Rosenthal says

I am more interested in the subject of whether we can do anything meaningful about global warming in the absence of a single world government (not a prospect I otherwise relish).

Let us assume that everyting the author says is true about the situation. And, let us say that we in the US took everything said so much to heart that we took the miraculous step of cutting our CO2 emissions by reducing our fossil fuel usage by, say, 20%. There are world markets for fossil fuels. So, would not our reduced usage in the US reduce the worldwide price, and in turn encourage places like China and India to use more? And, if those other places do use more, isn't it possible or perhaps even likely that they will burn those fossil fuels in a way that creates more CO2 emissions?

I was at a conference in Quebec once where this came up, in reference to China's rapid buildout of coal power plants. The speaker said that "we will just need to pay China to do something else" I took that as my cue to get up and go see Quebec City.

The author likes efficiency, but that can create the same phenomenon. We in the developed nations get more efficient, use less fossil fuels, global price goes down, others use more. Right?

If there are solutions, I would think that they would come from R&D on new techs. Other than R&D, the best money spent might be on dealing with the consequences of global warming rather than trying to insist that people significantly reduce their standards of living. I don't see people voluntarily reducing their standards of living in any major way, nor do I see governments forcing them to do so.

May, 15 2014

Michael Keller says

How about we simply concentrate on (via the free-market) using energy more efficiently/wisely because it saves us money? A happy by-product: less emissions, regardless of whether-or-not CO2 is a meaningful problem.

May, 16 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

People are not going to reduce their standard of living. However the BIG LIE is that solar and wind can be introduced, as in Germany, and it will not be accompanied by a decline in the standard of living.

Moreover, when the inevitable decline in the standard of living comes about, that decline is denied and the BIG LIE icontinues to give results because it impacts differently on differently sections of the population. The vulnerable take the fall, but nobody cares about them. and the upper layer of the middle class continue to take their long vacations abroad.,

But we live in democracies, and eventually the voters Catch on. The voters Catch on and Ms Merkel leaves for Hollywood or a good job in Brussels, and in a country like Germany some of the damage is repaired. In the very long run the losers will be forgotten and Germany will be the most nuclear intensive country in Europé, and maybe the World. GUARANTEED!.

May, 19 2014

Bob Ashworth says

A prominent scientist and former NASA researcher has added his voice to those who challenge the "scientific fact" that manmade carbon emissions are causing global warming.

Dr. Leslie Woodcock is a professor emeritus of chemical thermodynamics at the University of Manchester in England, with a Ph.D. from the University of London, and served as a senior research consultant at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Laboratory in Ohio.

In an interview with Britain's Yorkshire Evening Post, Woodcock declared: "The theory of 'manmade climate change' is an unsubstantiated hypothesis.

"The theory is that CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuel causes 'global warming.' In fact, water is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and there is 20 times more of it in our atmosphere [than carbon dioxide].

"Carbon dioxide has been made out to be some kind of toxic gas but the truth is it's the gas of life. We breathe it out, plants breathe it in. The green lobby has created a do-good industry and it becomes a way of life, like a religion. I understand why people defend it when they have spent so long believing in it."

Woodcock is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a founding editor of the journal Molecular Simulation, a recipient of a Max Planck Society Visiting Fellowship, and a former guest scientist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He went on to say: "If you talk to real scientists who have no political interest, they will tell you there is nothing in global warming. It's an industry which creates vast amounts of money for some people.

"The temperature of the earth has been going up and down for millions of years. If there are extremes, it's nothing to do with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it's not permanent and it's not caused by us. Global warming is nonsense.

"It's become almost an industry, as a consequence of this professional misconduct by government advisers around the world."

But he added: "You can't blame ordinary people with little or no science education for wanting to be seen to be good citizens who care about their grandchildren's future and the environment."

May, 20 2014

Fred Linn says

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEy6EuZp9IY

May, 20 2014

Don Hirschberg says

I would remind the author that despite her claims in her opening statement the message at Kyoto could not have been stronger. We were told that we were already at the point of no return - by “all competent scientists”. Unless we reduced CO2 emissions below 1990 levels we were were doomed – we would never be able to recover and that was what their math said. “All competent scientists” still rings in my ears.

What has happened? Since the Kyoto Conference the use of coal, oil and gas has gone up more than any time in history. We keep setting new records of coal usage. Instead of gas replacing coal it has added its CO2.

Can we believe “all competent scientists” were so grossly mistaken that the same story is plausible with far more emissions and far more people seeking far more energy and with higher atmospheric CO2.level Population still grows at about 100 million a year.

Every day more people have no electric service.

From the time we got up and walked on our hind legs until 1000 AD, yesterday, we never numbered more than 300 million.

I don't know how to decrease our 7.1 billion or so population but the arithmetic to solve the annual increase is very easy. At an average million deaths per bomb it would only take 100 nuclear bombs per year.

May, 21 2014

Fred Linn says

Nuclear bombs----brilliant strategy Bob.

May, 24 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Don, don't you know that nothing is under Control any longer. Our country is overpopulated and the present dumb president talks about sending Marines to Australia. I dislike Calling an American president dumb, and for Mr O I generally say ignorant, but I can't be tolerant and understanding any longer. I am however willing to accept that he did not start a war with a lie about WMD, but even so he took his time stopping the war started by that other fool.

May, 24 2014

Don Hirschberg says

Professor, I made a long (for me) reply but can't find a way to enter it in this box.

I have ginen up on my new Windows 8.2 desktop computer. It is now a doorstoip. I have resurrected my ancient computer but it doesn't hardly work on this site. Keeps freezing up on Energy Central sites.

If I can't find someone to fix it this could be my last submission.

May, 26 2014

John K. Sutherland says

Jessica, Stick to painting and the guitar. Science is beyond you.

June, 23 2014

Richard Vesel says

I only suggest ignoring the denialists, not burning them. Why release yet MORE CO2 from their combustion?

July, 14 2014

Richard Vesel says

Jessica posts an excellent article, and graphically illustrates a view of the problem, from a reliable data source. In response, the denialists respond as follows:

Ashworth: The NASA chart does not agree with the denialist claims that he is familiar with, regarding global temperatures since 2002. Wow - shocking, Bob. Fact does not agree with your recognized fiction.

Sutherland: No useful remarks, just demeaning insults. I suspect Sutherland is the one with no capacity for scientific objectivity.

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