Fighting the wrong war

It’s a staple of the green movement. CO2 is bad for the planet. It causes global warming and will eventually make us fry in hell. Behold Venus.

This has been conventional wisdom since I can think – at least since I know that environmental protection is a worthy goal that deserves our best efforts. It’s time to declare myself to the world. To all those who still have doubts – I am a rock hard environmentalist. I believe in a planet that is as clean as we can reasonably get it and believe me – there is plenty of room at the bottom to say it with the words of one of my all-time favorite scientists Richard Feynman.

Back to the green stuff. Many of the wild the stories on the nastiness of CO2 always had some hollow ring on it. Already in school, I learned that our plant buddies use it in similar ways as we use oxygen in order to do something that we would probably describe as breathing.

It’s called photosynthesis and is the base of carbohydrates creation which is at the heart of the munching scene. Now scientists say that Carbon dioxide may be bad for the climate, but it’s good for the spinach. I mean seriously, we don’t want it in the atmosphere, but the plant growing folks want it so much, they burned Natural Gas on purpose just to produce it for their greenhouses up to some years ago. To them, it’s not a pollutant but a rather valuable resource.

Power plants today look at CO2 as a cost factor only. In some cases, this makes 30% of the OPEX of the plant. Some entrepreneurs already start to rethink and turn this valuable resource into a commodity.

We should think again and look if we have not chased the wrong villains and also if it’s not even time to apologize to CO2. This will be hard as anyone knowing the violence with which those who deny the CO2 craze have experienced.

Let’s make this much more explicit. Without CO2, there would be no human life on earth. There would actually be nothing that would appear as life to the unaided eye on earth. First bacteria based their metabolisms on a variety of different catalysts. CO2 was only one of them.

Time for coming clean on another point. I don’t deny global warming. CO2 clearly is a greenhouse gas and is a contributor to the temperature averages as we experience them since humankind started to roam the plains of Africa and long before that. But I also beg to see things with perspective here as CO2 is by no count the most potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Some stuff that we put in the air is many orders of magnitude more potent for trapping heat than CO2 is so if the comparatively feeble airborne carbon already gives us the jitters, how about all the really strong stuff in our air then?

One of the strongest greenhouse gasses we emit is water vapor. It dwarfs CO2 by any measure as a heat trap Will we stop having showers or cooking because we might fry the planet. Oh besides, the biggest source of water vapor in the atmosphere is evaporation from the sun’s heat. So, greenhouse effects have been with us since the sun shines on water surfaces and that predates human activities for – a few billion years.

On the other hand, biofuels activities have sparked a race between those planting crops for food or for fuels production. That’s right – a biofuel just emits the carbon that has been taken out of the atmosphere beforehand but when people go hungry, that’s not a sexy alternative.

Besides, what heat trap are we talking about? Heat can only be passed on so water will cool the surface through evaporation and radiate this heat off into space. And it will also give heat back to the surface through condensation when needed. This is an insulating effect and the CO2 in the atmosphere contributes to this effect.  CO2 might be closer to be our life savior rather than the killer it is always shown to be.

I really wonder if some environmentalists have skipped biology or simple physics at school as those things are not really hard to understand.

And if we are worried about man-made greenhouse gasses – then let’s home in on a real nasty villain out there which is fine particulate matter. Yes, that’s right. Below the micron scale, particulates quickly become part of the air meaning that as soon as they are aerosols, they behave rather like a gas and not like a solid anymore. Most of those particles is black carbon which is an especially potent heat absorber. But black carbon also gets trapped in snow and reduces albedo which makes the earth radiate less sunlight into space.

Enough science – let’s just apply some common sense. I know how deep the sentiments run and CO2 and I am very certainly the last one that denies global warming, but many environmentalists just shoot at the wrong target. While they concentrate their firepower on airborne carbon, they should instead concentrate on other stuff that comes out of the tailpipe such as NOx or Particulate Matter.

VW has shown us that we have a lot to do on those counts and contrary to CO2, there is nothing on earth that would ever see those substances ass resources. They are what they are, nasty stuff that should not be in our air, our lungs, our body tissues.  It’s hard to think of a positive role for particles in the air, unlike CO2 which is one of the basic ingredients of life.

So let’s get real and home in on the real target. CO2 should be a business but not in terms of who gets the right to pollute how much but rather in terms of how valuable it is to some of us.

If we let those blind-sighted environmentalists do as they wish, the earth’s plants have had it and so eventually will the animals.

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