Is Carbon Dioxide a Pollutant?

I am often asked whether or not carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

It depends what you mean. It's like asking whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. A botanist will say it's a fruit (the layman will raise his eyebrows). Perhaps you will raise yours when I tell you that carbon dioxide is the most important gas on the planet. Even if you don't know much - or anything - about science, you really should know this. Carbon dioxide is why we're here. Everything alive on the planet is a carbon-based life form.

Carbon dioxide is a necessary part of our world. Plants need it to survive. The carbon they contain (their leaves, their sap, their bark, and any food they produce) comes from the carbon dioxide they take in.

Without carbon dioxide, the human race could not exist. Ever wonder why they study 'the Carbon Cycle' at school? Without the carbon cycle, there is no life. Plants take in carbon dioxide; they produce food. We eat it, and breathe out carbon dioxide, which the plants use, and round the cycle it goes again, millions of times, forever..

If there was no carbon dioxide - we would starve.

On that basis, carbon dioxide cannot be a pollutant.

Now - what about the political view? Think about this:

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. The ruling would allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate CO2 emissions, and eventually to fine companies exceeding their emissions limits.

During Apr 09, the EPA formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants endangering public health and welfare. This set in motion a process that would lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the USA.

The EPA said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.”

At the end of Aug 2009, the head of the EPA said it would soon formally declare carbon dioxide a 'dangerous pollutant' — a move that could help propel slow-moving climate change legislation on Capitol Hill. Update......This was finally done at the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change in November 2009, thus enabling legislation, regulation and subsequent taxing of those who exceed legal limits.

The political struggle, however, is only just beginning. Excessive taxing based on unsettled science is in no-one's interest, with the possible exception of those in the business of carbon trading.

On 29 Dec 08, a physicist from Chicago, wrote to the Financial Times, as follows:

“Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas that occurs naturally in the atmosphere and helps to maintain the earth at a temperature suitable for life – the principal greenhouse gas is water vapour. Carbon dioxide is essential to the growth of all plants. Without it plants could not grow and all animal life would die. In no way is this gas a pollutant. To call it one is misleading.

Calling carbon dioxide a pollutant is a political statement, not a scientific one. Behind the politics is the claim that the small observed global warming trend is due to the burning of fossil fuels rather than being of natural origin.

Despite popular perception, the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did not show that human activities were responsible for global warming. Its conclusions were based on computer models of the earth’s climate."

As we all know, computer models are not evidence. They are just models - ways of thinking about a complex situation. To quote Richard Courtney: There’s no evidence for man-made global warming; none, not any of any kind. The existence of global warming is not evidence of anthropogenic global warming because warming of the Earth doesn't prove humans warmed it.

Crisply put.

As for the question "Is Carbon Dioxide a Pollutant?" - the political answer is Yes; the scientific answer is NO.

Nigel Deacon / habitat21 website

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