03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GOP: EPA Greenhouse Gas Finding Threatens Kittens, Puppies

Over at the Washington Independent, Mike Lillis pulls a quote from the Republican Study Committee, pushing back on the EPA's greenhouse gas endangerment finding with bunk science.

Specifically, he notes the well-traveled nonsense that if human beings and critters of all sorts expire carbon dioxide, just like polluters, that makes the EPA's finding "good news for all those opposed to the despicable practice of breathing." Then there's some strange stuff about "puppies and kittens."

Every day, over 6 billion humans and an untold number of puppies, kittens, and other animals produce large quantities of this ubiquitous gas. Should they be required to stop breathing? And every day, trees, flowers, shrubs, and other flora use carbon dioxide to sustain their own existence. Liberals are supposedly more plant-friendly than the rest of us, so why would they try to limit a gas that is essential for plant life? If the rainforests could speak, would they be stunned by this betrayal?

I recognize this line of (what I'll loosely call) reasoning as the talking points of coal and oil industry green-washing organization CO2 Is Green. I previously disposed of this nonsense, but for the sake of repeating myself, here's the seventh-grade-level earth science you need to understand the distinction between CO2 produced in respiration versus CO2 produced from carbon fuel emissions:

Yes, human beings produce carbon dioxide and then plants, through photosynthesis, metabolize this exhaust and convert it back into oxygen. All of this is part of a naturally occurring cycle that functions well when it's in equilibrium. But what the good folks at CO2 Is Green -- fronted by "a veteran oil industry executive" and supported by the "chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties" -- want you to believe is that when the fossil fuels they shill for are burned, it's just as easy and natural as respiration. It's like breathing, only lots lots more of it!

But the carbon captured in fossil fuels is not a part of the naturally occurring process of respiration. That carbon is the result of centuries of organic decay. Left on its own, it would take millions of years for fossil fuels to "exhale" their carbon dioxide. When fossil fuels are burned, however, it's released into the atmosphere on a much shorter timeframe of a few centuries, thus increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment. That throws off the equilibrium established between respiration and photosynthesis. This is where the whole concept of "carbon offsets" come from as a means of restoring this healthy equilibrium.

As for what the rainforests would say, I would imagine if they could talk, they'd say something like:

Hey! Shut up, Republican Study Committee! That's a gross oversimplification. Plants need all sorts of things to survive, in different combinations. And many of us plants have internal biological regulators that limit our intake of carbon dioxide, so more of it isn't necessarily better.

At any rate, kitties can breathe easier, plants not so much.

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