Taking the “Carbon” out of “Carbon Sequestration”

Are dittoheads trying to out-stupid each other?

Tom Harris, Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and executive director of the Orwellianly-named Natural Resources Stewardship Project, which lobbies for innaction on Global Warming, has an article in the Washington Times that should be titled “Hey Everybody! Watch How Far I Can Shove My Head Up My Butt!

In it, he argues that Scientists and Environmentalists are being dishonest with their language by using the word “Carbon” in their arguments. That they should stop using terms like “post carbon energy future,” “carbon emissions,” “carbon footprint,” and “carbon sequestration,” because these terms are inaccurate, and they should instead replace “carbon” with “CO2,” which is more accurate.

Ignoring the oxygen atoms and calling CO2 merely “carbon” makes about as much sense as ignoring the oxygen in water (H2O) and calling it “hydrogen.” That might be an effective PR tool for anti-hydro power campaigners but most people would regard such a communications trick as ridiculous. Equating carbon dioxide to “carbon” is no less flawed.

Is this really an unfair rhetorical tactic on the part of Environmentalists? Let’s look at how CO2 interacts with our environment (cue the 50s Educational Film Music):

The Carbon Cycle
The Carbon Cycle

Carbon exists in the Earth’s atmosphere primarily as the gas carbon dioxide (CO2), and to a lesser extent methane (CH4) and chloroflorocarbons, all three of which are greenhouse gases, and the last, CFCs, are entirely anthropogenic in nature.

Plants perform photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. At the Earth’s poles, cooler seawater makes carbon dioxide more soluble, and it becomes carbonic acid. Sealife converts the carbon into shells made of calcium carbonate. The oceans contain around 36,000 gigatonnes of carbon, mostly in the form of bicarbonate ions.

Carbon is released back into the atmosphere, where it converts to carbon dioxide when oxygen is present and methane when it is not (two greenhouse gases), through respiration of plants and animals, the oxidation of carbon through burning fossil fuels, (another hydrocarbon), heating limestone (calcium carbonate) to make cement, and volcanoes.

This complex web of interactions and more is all part of what’s known as The Carbon Cycle, which Tom Harris has obviously either never heard of or is willfully hiding from his readers. Dishonesty or ignorance, I leave it to you to decide which reason to dismiss this brain stem of a human being.

Harris does have a legitimate objection to the use of the term “greenhouse gas,” arguing that a greenhouse has a solid glass ceiling to trap heat, where the atmosphere does not:

Even the “greenhouse effect” is misleading since the Earth’s atmosphere does not behave like a greenhouse. Greenhouses use a solid barrier (the glass roof) to prevent heat loss by convection yet, lacking such a barrier, convection accounts for about half the heat loss from Earth’s surface.

He’s right. The analogy is incorrect, the gas does not act as a barrier in the way it prevents the thermal energy from radiating into space, but more like a sponge, soaking up more thermal energy and preventing it from radiating into space. scientists from the early 1800s should hang their heads in embarrassment. If they… you know… weren’t all dead and stuff.

So Harris scores a partial brownie point, and We’ll get right on top of correcting this inaccuracy. Just as soon as we get everybody to stop calling Black Stars “Black Holes,” the Theory of Gravitation the “Theory of Relativity,” and Native American’s/American Indians “Indians.”

Harris is absolutely correct about one thing, the words we use to frame our arguments are very important, and we should be skeptical when a representative from a Canadian Organization bent on preventing action on Environmental Issues, calling themselves the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, makes such pathetic attempts to take others to task for their use of language.