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A. Siegel

A. Siegel

Posted April 8, 2009 | 12:36 PM (EST)

"We Call it Life ..." Idiocy and Deception Resurrected


When it comes to discussion of climate change, there are too many prepared to come to the table intent on deceiving and confusing rather than engaging honestly. There are those who never tire of returning to the same old, disproved, shallow story lines time after time. They are ready to shift from lunacy to lunacy, hoping to wear down reality-based thinkers and confuse those who don't have the time or energy to really question the sound-bites they keep hearing.

The latest fad, it seems, amid the denier/skeptic/delayer community is to resurrect the old "Co2=Life" with emphasizing that Co2 is plant life. This has been seen in the past weeks from witnesses in Senate testimony, from Republican Congressmen in hearings, in blog posts galore, and in conservative columns and editorial pages.

For example, this was core to The Washington Times reality-denying editorial a week ago.

But if there wasn't carbon dioxide around, there would be no plants.

Ever so true of the deniers / skeptics / delayers: state things that are true but which are absolutely not truthful in the context of the discussion of climate change and what humanity should do to shift its reckless course toward catastrophic climate change.

Here is an appropriate analogy for consideration: You will die if you don't have liquid (water). (Get your eight glasses yesterday?) If a half-gallon/day is good for you, then a gallon must be better. And, well, of course, why not try drinking 50 gallons per day.

But if there wasn't carbon dioxide around, there would be no plants.

What do they take us (the US) for: idiots?

The sad thing is that, for at least a few people, they might be right.

Last week, I was in an elevator with three people who were commenting about this very issue. And, the joke from one of them: "Well, Joe, guess you're contributing to Global Warming by exhaling right now." [Note: Cultural norms are difficult to deal with but they weren't happily surprised when facts and real information disrupted their gleefully ignorant elevator shenanigans.] Yes, while they are taking Americans for idiots with this line of debate, there are sadly at least some percentage who are ready to fall for it.


Co2 is necessarily for plant life.

And, yes, there are actually greenhouses where CO2 is pumped in to produced bigger flowers, faster.

So, in some circumstances Co2 leads to higher agricultural productivity. There are, however, also ways in which increased CO2 reduces the quality of agricultural productivity (perhaps severely): before we are talking about agricultural disruption due to changed weather patterns, increasingly severe weather, droughts/flooding, etc ....

The Washington Times editorial was a full-throated, embarrassment-free diatribe against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) making decisions based on the requirements of the law actually informed by science.

One man's meat may be another man's poison, but the Environmental Protection Agency has taken the idea to an absurdity. EPA has just sent a proposal to the White House that would classify carbon dioxide as a health hazard.

But if there wasn't carbon dioxide around, there would be no plants. And, for that matter, neither would there be any people or pets if we weren't allowed to exhale.

Well, a different analogy for everything in moderation. Eat some red meat might be contributing to cancer and not the healthiest choice (truth in advertising: author is omnivore and appreciates a good cut of beef), but how about trying to eat 20 lbs of grilled meat per day.

And, have to think those people in the elevator had read the Washington Times since they seemed fearful that EPA will regulate their breathing patterns.

The claimed "health hazard" from carbon dioxide is, of course, global warming, yet the data we have seen, such as Stanford economist Thomas Gale Moore's work, show that warmer temperatures and higher incomes are associated with healthier, longer-living people. In case environmentalists haven't noticed, bio-diversity is also much greater when temperatures are higher.

Again, lets throw in lots of facts, items that might (MIGHT) be true, and use them in support of an absolutely truth-free argument.

And, well, lets suggest a different way of looking at this: if "warmer temperatures" are so great, how come the richest countries (with rare exceptions, like Singapore, Israel and, principally, resource extraction countries (oil producers)) are in temperate zones and not the tropics?


Over history, human civilizations have expanded during warmer periods but declined when it got cold. For a history lesson, we recommend University of California Professor Brian Fagan's excellent book, "The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History."


So, guess we should be cheering as we will be able to (or will have not choice but to) expand (what remains of human civilization) into the wonderful wine-growing regions of Antartica. (Note, however, that temperatures might increased but it will still leave months of darkness / minimal (and weak) daylight.)

Obviously, higher temperatures support more plant life, and that in turn supplies the food for more animals. If you want more plants, animals, and healthier people, more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures are beneficial and certainly not "hazardous to health."

"Obviously".

This truly is a blunt statement of truthiness.

Why are we questioning something so self-evident? How dare we?

Perhaps, because this superficial truthiness, gut-based assessment is distorting.

As for higher temperatures, as one of those examples, want to talk about how over 110 degree temperatures in Australia seems more supportive of wild-fires than food production?

All sorts of bizarre regulations already are devoted to "protecting" us from warmer temperatures - regulations that do endanger health and safety. Take mile per gallon regulation rules for cars. These rules directly endanger health and life because smaller cars are simply inherently less able to protect their passengers.

So, evidently MPG is solely for global warming reasons. That would be news for those who first introduced these decades ago. The principle driver: reducing US dependency on foreign sources of oil and reducing vulnerability to disrupted supplies.

The safety issue is pure truthiness raising the basic question: why isn't every American driving a tank on the road? The threat to small cars comes, very significantly, from poorly driven big ones.

Then there are mandates for compact fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury. The EPA itself has extremely detailed and scary instructions about requiring people to leave the area once a bulb is broken. You can't vacuum the spot, and if the spill occurs on a carpet the EPA claims that you should cut out that portion of the carpet and dispose of it properly.

Attacking CFLs has become another one of those right-wing talking points. Let's talk about that mercury in the bulb rather than discussing the much larger amounts of mercury dispersed into the atmosphere by coal-fired plants supporting inefficient incandescent lighting.

Of course, by the way, wouldn't want to mention the significant fiscal savings associated with using CFLs. Would we?

There is little rational discussion on global warming these days. Consider the following questions. A "no" to any of them should logically imply that we should not restrict carbon dioxide.

(1) Are global temperatures rising? They were clearly rising from the late 1970s to 1998, but temperatures just as clearly have not gone up in the last 11 years. Indeed, the more recent numbers show evidence of cooling.

Love the distortion. In 1998, there was a major El Nino event. A natural (though, perhaps human-driven global warming is affecting this pattern -- an issue of scientific discussion/investigation) event that heats the globe for a period of time piled on top of human-driven global warming. Thus, 1998 was an extremely hot year. If that first sentence said 12 years or 10 years, it would simply not have any basis in facts.

And, true facts vs truth. Even with 1998 natural/human-driven warming combo, the pattern over time, temperatures are rising. While perhaps cooler than 1998, every year in the 2000s is in the top 10 warmest years on record. Thus, that "evidence of cooling" is sort of like say Monday through Friday were 110 degree days, the weekend is going to cool to 109.

Answer to question: yes.

(2) Is mankind responsible for a significant and noticeable portion of an increase in temperatures? Mankind is responsible for just a few percent of greenhouse gases, and changes in greenhouse gases are responsible for just a tiny fraction of changes in global temperatures. The big factor is variations in the sun's energy output. Last December, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works released a list of 400 prominent scientists who questioned the general notion of significant manmade global warming.

Well, that "few percent" line is a nice distortion. While, this is true in terms of the actual cycle of Co2, Co2 concentrations have risen from about 285 ppm to 380 ppm in the past hundred years or so. Those increased emissions derive from human activity and, in fact, can be traced by scientists back to humans. Thus, that 'few percent' translates to roughly one-third of the CO2 in the atmosphere come from humanity.

And, stated as fact are many false things -- directly false. If solar activity were the principally driving factor of near-term climate change, we would have cooling in the past 30 years or so -- not a significant warming trend. Solar radiation is a portion of the warming over the past century. The science places this roughly in the range of 5-10% of the total warming.

And, of course, want to mention that that list came not "from the committee" but from the Minority (read: Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Exxon, and his former side-kick, Marc Morano)? (By the way, amusing, December 2008's "list" was of 650, not 400 -- and what a list it was.)

Answer to question, by the way: Yes.

(3) Are increased temperatures "bad"? That answer is hardly obvious. Higher temperatures could increase ocean levels by between 7 inches and 2 feet over the next 100 years. On the other hand, massive areas from Canada to Europe to Russia would be much more habitable than now. We have already noted the other benefits to life.

Again, a studied demonstration in argument by truthiness. "Hardly obvious" for those who wish to studiously ignore science. While there will be specific benefits from increased CO2 (bigger roses) and increased temperatures, on balance, the risks from acidification of oceans, increasingly violent storms, disrupted weather patterns, rising seas threatening natural and man-made shoreline areas, etc are so far worse than limited "benefits to life".

Answer to question: yes.

(4) Finally, let's assume that the answer to all three previous questions is "yes." Does that mean we need more regulations and taxes? No, that is still not clear.
Actually, while the answer is almost certainly yes here, this is an arena where one can actually have serious discussion, can have debate, can figure out best policy paths to tackle the problem and find real solutions.

Now, as to "taxes", what The Washington Times (and the ilk) want is to have the freedom to pollute, without limit, without concern to the implications to the health, safety, and prosperity of one's neighbors today and tomorrow.

Answer to question, again: almost certainly yes.


If we believe that man-made global warming is "bad," we still don't want to eliminate all carbon emissions. Having no cars, no air conditioning, or no electricity would presumably be much worse than anything people claim results from global warming. We would want to balance the benefits with any costs of additional carbon dioxide emissions.

This strawman is so wonderful. Who, as part of the serious discussion about US policy, is speaking about "no cars, no air conditioning, or no electricity"? (We could spend books writing on the absurdity of this comment. Let's just point to one example: wind power's potential, without considering other options, to deliver multiples of today's electricity supply.) What distorting absurdity.

One can see government do stupid things daily; the staggeringly harmful course it is already on is breathtaking. But hold on to the gunwales, for the ship of state in President Obama's new environmental era will leave the United States pitching and yawing, with the world much poorer and less healthy because of it.

The audacity of the arrogant ignorance is breathtaking ... and terrifying.


We call it life ...

This OPED and the discussion is so reminiscent of this ad.

About this, for example,Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To "Confuse and Mislead"

CEI ad notes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is "essential to life," and says, "they call it pollution. We call it life." That ad fails to mention that too much CO2 can cause global temperatures to rise or that there is more of it in the atmosphere than any time during the last 420,000 years.

CEI, which gets just over 9 percent of its budget from Exxon Mobil Corporation, said it was only trying to make sure the public hears "both sides of the story."

Or Our Friend: CO2 "One of the stupider arguments making the rounds in the media is that "carbon-dioxide-is-not-pollution- it's life"." Or Deltoid

The CEI warns people that using Linux is legally risky, attacked the FDA when it proposed regulating tobacco, and relentlessly attacks Kyoto. It is no doubt just a coincidence that the CEI receives extensive funding from Microsoft, Philip Morris and Exxon.

Or A Convenient Semi-Truth

The slogan: "Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life." The gist: Carbon dioxide: You can't see it. We exhale it. We need it to live. "It comes from animal life, the oceans, the Earth, and the fuels we find in it." Therefore, it's not a greenhouse gas -- it's part of life! Now, get over it!

Wow. That's so good I can't even think about it without breaking into a huge smile. In that sense, I guess it's more like nitrous oxide than carbon dioxide. Every line, every image, is perfect, and perfectly vacuous. Indeed, this may be the funniest one minute I've ever seen -- up there with the best ad parodies on "Mr. Show" and "SNL." Only it's not a parody. Or it doesn't know it's a parody.

Truly, should we laugh or cry? Considering the stakes for all of us, laughing is probably not were I go with this.

Intellectually starved Member of Congress ...

Sigh, bring in a denier to testify and build on it. Rep Shimkus on "taking away plant food" by cutting CO2.

Some things you can't make up ...