Defogging the denial in debate over CO2

December 30, 2009

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ERIC EBY (“Why fight CO2?’’ Letters, Dec. 25) succinctly serves up the muddled selectivity that climate change deniers use to fog the public about carbon dioxide.

First, it is true that water vapor is the most powerful of the greenhouse gases, but the rate at which it falls out of the atmosphere is roughly in balance with the rate at which it enters the atmosphere. With CO2, that’s not the case, and that’s the problem.

Second, it has indeed been demonstrated, under controlled conditions, that increases in CO2 concentrations can promote plant growth. There is no reason, however, to believe that higher concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere will be anywhere near sufficient to offset the negative effects that rising global temperatures will have on forests and croplands.

Third, “pollutant’’ is a highly contextualized concept. Lead has had its uses historically, but we don’t want it leaching into our drinking water. Salt’s importance to life is unquestioned, but allow too much salinity in fields, and crops will die. Even sand - ubiquitous, marvelous, and eminently useful - will bury fish spawning habitat if discharged in large volumes into rivers and streams. This is not to suggest that we regulate salt and sand as pollutants, but rest assured that farmers, forest managers, drinking-water utilities and others will take steps to prevent high concentrations of these substances in places where they are not wanted. If that means regulation, so be it.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recognition of CO2 as a pollutant was an entirely appropriate action designed to direct how we are going to control that chemical’s concentrations in our atmosphere.

Anyone proposing an either-or view of CO2 - either it’s good or it’s bad, but not both -is disingenuously taking advantage of the public’s woeful ignorance about scientific matters.

George Stubbs
The writer is senior editor of Environmental Business Journal and Climate Change Business Journal.

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