National Post: Defending the Insensible

Mon, 2007-04-09 11:18Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

National Post: Defending the Insensible

Here's a vintage piece from Canada's National Post, a long non sequitur that presumes to prove that CO2 is not threat - by calling it benign and by suggesting that there really isn't that much of it around.

The case for CO2 being benign seems to be wrapped up in this statement: “We each expel it every time we exhale.” And that's true, but I don't see much merit in arguing for the safety of substances that the human body is designed to expel at its earliest convenience.

The case for there being only “a tiny amount” of CO2 in earth's atmosphere is more than just silly, however. In Lorne Gunter's flawed calculations, it is plain wrong - which we would have to blame on incompetence or dishonesty, take your pick.

Gunter says, “at most, 5% of carbon dioxide … comes from human sources.”

If he means five per cent per year, he should have said so - and then dealt with the problem of compounding interest. In fact, the most accurate measurement of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently about 380 parts per million, an increase of 36 per cent since the Industrial Revolution, when humans started pumping CO2 out of the ground and into the air.

Therefore, humans are responsible for about 26% of total CO2 in the atmosphere today (380 minus 280 divided by 380).

And CO2 is like water - benign up to a point. But when the best climate scientists in the world say that CO2 is now, officially, over our heads, it's time to dismiss those whose phony arguments have nothing to do with science, or even garden variety common sense.

(With thanks to DeSmogger S Berg)

Previous Comments

While the rest of the CanWest network of media seems to be getting it, the National Post is the holdout – it only makes the whole company look bad.

I think that this guy’s real intended audience is the scientifically illiterate business reader. You know the type: mid to upper management, very little scientific education or knowledge of the scientific process; the type that those of us with a bit of scientific knowledge hate to work for, because they wouldn’t recognize a rational fact based argument if it bit their nose off. They are aiming for this specific audience because these managers have decision making power within organizations.

[rant]What we should probably recognize that these desperate neoconservative denialists will never be convinced of the reality of the danger of climate change until it is far too late, and perhaps not even then. I would hypothesize that if we could transport some of them to the future to see the impacts of climate change, they still wouldn’t admit their error because it isn’t in their short term self interest. These people have always existed in society; the only difference is that in the past they weren’t given the prestige that they seem to have today. I would be charitable if I called him a sycophantic courtier in the court of big money. Or if I wasn’t charitable, I would say he is a small step up from a mafia minion. [/rant]

[rational argument]As with so many fallacy filled arguments, it takes more work to refute them than to make them. So let me address the 5% argument. Firstly, we can categorize two types of carbon: carbon that has been stored deep underground, nearly permanently sequestered from the atmosphere (e.g. oil, coal); and carbon that is either in the atmosphere or temporarily stored in a form that will be returned to the atmosphere by processes such as decay (e.g. trees). In the absence of humans, the main way that sequestered carbon could reenter the atmosphere was by volcanic eruption. The amount of carbon produced by volcanoes is actually quite small relative to human emissions. In other words, humans are the dominant source of new carbon to the atmospheric system.[/rational argument]

So often people forget to look at the carbon cycle in its entirety. Its quite easy to say humans only generate a small portion of the entire cycle, but forget to point out that there is more CO2 entering the atmosphere than is leaving thanks to human activity, the part that is shockingly left out. Though to be honest I think the ocean is soaking up a large potion of CO2 and has been causing the slower than expected raise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Good old ocean good for everything, garbage, PCB’s and excess CO2.

Carl Szczerski said

the ocean is soaking up a large potion of CO2

And of course all that excess CO2 going into the ocean is increasing the acidity of the water, which is among other things making the ions needed for shell building less available to shellfish and plankton. Messing with the lowest levels in the ocean food chains is a rather dangerous thing to do, especially since the ocean supplies 70% of our oxygen and a large amount of our food.

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The bottom line is that the disciples of scoffing at climatology haven’t heard the news. Red Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, has been a leading voice behind first denial of global warming, and later denial of any human involvement. Now he has changed his tone, and adapted to the evidence presented by real science. It seems that some of those that were convinced by CEI and its replicas haven’t heard the call to retreat.

News article:

-quote- … he ceded grudgingly: ‘I am happy, for the purposes of this discussion, to accept all the scientific arguments behind their proposals.’


…Ebell insists that neither he nor his colleagues dispute the fact of global warming as they once did. ‘We try to react to the scientific research that comes out – and we’ve adjusted our political rhetoric as well,’ he says. The new line goes something like this: sure, we’ll accept that global warming is occurring and humans bear some responsibility, but it’s hard to predict exactly how bad a warmer world will be.


…’We’ve had a flat global mean temperature since 1998,’ he notes. ‘So what are we worried about?’ Ebell is cherry-picking here – 1998 was an exceptionally hot year, thanks to El Nino, but global average temperatures have risen steadily since 1900.

Meanwhile, many global-warming sceptics are suffering the indignity of having to deny they were ever deniers in the first place. Take Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute. In 2004, Green wrote a paper with notorious climate-change denier Timothy Ball arguing that the scientific models used to predict global warming were ‘of dubious merit’. Now he insists he accepts the IPCC’s baseline conclusions and says of his relationship with Ball: ‘The fact we haven’t worked together since then suggests we don’t agree.’ Sounds like the heat is getting to him.

-end quote- The Australian. Science and Nature. April 10, 2007. Bradford Plumer
I meant Fred Smith. The article I cited from does say ‘Red Smith” but I believe it to be a typo.
Hilarious. I think it was someone on this blog that asked what would Exxon do to a think tanks funding if they accepted the realities of global warming. We should have asked WWCEID. Now we know what CEI would do if Exxon cut off their funding! Watch, they’re probably try and start wesaling wind power contracts or something! Weasals should be banished from DC.
Yes. Unfortunately, due in part to the National Enquirer North and other ‘news’ sources that will never accept it no matter what evidence comes along, and also thanks to certain scoffers who can’t stop talking about themselves and mentioning Canada when they do so, our reputation in some parts is as follows:

“Global warming has a lot of people worried. None of them seem to be from Canada.”
I assume that this CO2 accountant can use the internet to find CO2 measurements. There are tables and even graphs, to make it easier. So, he sees a rapid increase from below 300 parts per million (0.03%) to over 380 parts per million (0.038%, which he acknowledges as 0.4% in the article, and then says

“Carbon dioxide makes up just 0.04% of the entire atmosphere, and most of that – at least 95% – is naturally occurring (decaying plants, forest fires, volcanoes, releases from the oceans). At most, 5% of the carbon dioxide in the air comes from human sources such as power plants, cars, oilsands, etc.”

So the human part of the jump this century of 25 to 30% is called “at most 5%?” Assuming he knows nothing about 14C or land clearing, is there another wild explanation for all the CO2 generated, perhaps by killer trees? He must be able to find out how low the volcano output is, … unless the figure came from Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano, or Pierce Brosnan in Dante’s Peak. If Crichton is considered a well-known scientist, then these are too, I guess.

CO2 is a total lie. The CO2 is not the main element that made the temperature go up. Actually is a phase that our planet goes through. It is a cosmic change which is manifesting on all planets in our solar system. You can check on Google and you see that 350 million years ago, the CO2 level was 10 times higher and at that time it was an ice age. Figure it out. ========================================

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