The Miracle of Carbon Dioxide

Thursday, 26 May 2011 03:42 PM

By Ralph Hostetter

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As of Jan. 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began regulating the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

About a year earlier, Dec. 8, 2009, the EPA declared that CO2 was a health hazard and therefore a pollutant under the Clean Air Act of 2009.

By definition, a pollutant is an airborne substance injurious to human health. The authority under which EPA is acting dates back to April 2007 in the case: Massachusetts Supreme Court v. EPA.

The court instructed EPA to determine whether carbon dioxide, along with other greenhouse gases, pose or potentially pose a danger to human health. In December 2009, the agency determined these gases were a danger and then gave itself the green light to issue rules cutting CO2 emissions on a wide range of enterprises, including coal plants, paper mills, and foundries.

It has the authority to regulate hospitals, small business, schools, churches, and perhaps even single family homes.

The EPA is necessarily in a hurry to move ahead before too much opposition develops.

Before America throws the baby out with the bath water, we should first determine: "What is CO2?"

First off, carbon dioxide should not be confused with carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter, form part of the exhaust gases from internal combustion engines (automobiles). Today up to 98 percent of these pollutants are eliminated by such devices as catalytic converters on modern cars.

Carbon dioxide is one of the substances that make up the atmosphere, the air that surrounds the earth.

Air is composed of 78 percent nitrogen; 21 percent oxygen; and nine-tenths of one percent (0.9 percent) argon. The other one-tenth percent (0.1 percent) of the atmosphere is made up of traces of carbon dioxide, neon, helium, krypton, hydrogen and ozone. Water vapor mixes with the other elements in amounts from 1 to 4 percent of the total.

Carbon dioxide is present in concentrations of some thirty-nine thousandths of one percent (0.0039 percent) This represents approximately 390 parts per million — hardly overwhelming.

Carbon dioxide concentrations, prior to the industrial revolution (1850) were 280 parts per million, indicating an increase of some 40 percent in the past 160 years.

Since 1830, the average global temperature has increased approximately one-half degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree F.) with most of this half-degree occurring before 1940 and the onslaught of vehicular and air traffic, thus eliminating the argument that CO2 causes global warming.

Ice core samples taken from glaciers in Greenland reveal some 160,000 years of carbon dioxide concentration in the earth's atmosphere. Only slight variations in the volume of carbon dioxide were observed over that period of time.

Carbon dioxide comes from both natural and human-induced releases.

Estimates are that 157.1 billion metric tons enter the atmosphere each year. Of this, some 150 billion tons come from natural sources (90 billion tons from the oceans, 30 billion tons from decay of vegetation, and 30 billion from plant and animal respiration) and an estimated 7.1 billion tons are human induced.

Some 154 billion tons are absorbed annually in plant and forest growth and other natural uses, leaving some 3.1 billion tons.

Of the 7.1 billion tons worldwide, America contributes some 1.44 billion tons, of which 0.280 billion tons are attributed to gasoline-driven vehicles.

James D. Johnson, in his book Driving America (1997) states, “Eliminating all U.S. gasoline-powered vehicles would reduce total worldwide carbon dioxide emissions by eighteen hundredths of one percent (0.18 percent) per year. Hardly a significant step in rolling back carbon dioxide.”

Herein lies the miracle of carbon dioxide. It is a giver of life.

Carbon dioxide is the only — and we repeat only — substance on earth that can harvest the sun's energy through a process of photosynthesis and thereby create matter in the form of vegetation. It is the major building block of all vegetation.

The food chain on which all animal life depends and survives is based on vegetation.

It is the browsers and the grazers among the animals that provide the meat for the predators — other animals and humans.

The fish and other sea creatures feed on plankton grown in the sea with the help of carbon dioxide.

As in eons past, increases in carbon dioxide bring increases in production of vegetation and plankton, thus increasing crops and sea life in the world.

Since carbon dioxide is the major building block of all vegetation, farm production over the last 50 years has increased some 30 percent on average, for a good measure due to increases in CO2.

Although many factors have played a part — fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides — increased carbon dioxide has been a major contributing factor.

Agricultural scientists predict that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause a “greening” of the planet unknown in modern times.

Given all the benefits that carbon dioxide represents to humans, animals, and vegetation itself, there appears little reason to impose draconian regulations on emissions of carbon dioxide.

History has proved that carbon dioxide is a giver of life. By no stretch of the imagination can CO2 be intelligently considered to fall within the definition of pollutant.

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by email sent to eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.








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