July 12, 2009

What is "Carbon Pollution"

The house has passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. This bill is claimed to create green jobs, reduce "carbon pollution", and ultimately save the planet. Sounds great.

Unfortunately, if the results are like other countries that have done the same thing, it will actually destroy over 2 jobs for every green job it creates; not reduce any carbon output, but instead increase the tax burden on companies; create many new government agencies, bureaucracies, regulations and mandates making doing business more complicated and expensive; and not affect the temperature of the planet one bit.

As a follow up to this post on macro climate change, I will talk about carbon dioxide.

As a Chemical Engineer, I find the demonization of carbon dioxide incredibly frustrating and insulting. Carbon dioxide has somehow been turned into a pollutant, some kind of dangerous gas that humans “spew” out by their greed and industrialization and general raping of the planet. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Carbon dioxide is an absolute essential substance for all life on this planet. It is as fundamental to life as water! Carbon dioxide, by design or by evolution, is an ingenious battery, which is used to store vast amounts of energy from the sun that can then be used by all life on this planet.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used in a plant and combined with water to form oxygen and sugars in a process called photosynthesis. Energy is required to perform this task; the energy comes from sun light. See below (click to enlarge):

CO2 + 2 H2O + photons → (CH2O)n + H2O + O2
carbon dioxide + water + light energy → carbohydrate + oxygen + water
In this way, plants can convert solar energy into stored energy. All life on this planet is carbon based, meaning it is mainly built out of carbon atoms. This is because we are all built out of carbon dioxide, we all get our energy and mass from the sun and the carbon dioxide molecule!

In actuality, oxygen is a byproduct (a pollutant if you will) of this process. In order for life to continue, the excess oxygen buildup must be converted back into carbon dioxide (releasing the stored energy). Animals (again by design or by evolution) aid in this by using the sugars and metabolizing them back into carbon dioxide, water vapor, and energy. This gives them the energy required to function and grow without absorbing it from the sun. The carbon dioxide energy can also be released by burning (oxygen reacting with organic matter and releasing heat energy, water vapor, and carbon dioxide).

Current levels of CO2 are around 300-400ppm (parts per million) depending on where you are. This is the low end of what plants need to grow. Plants have been shown to double their growth rate in environments of 2000 ppm with plenty of light. So, from a plants perspective, we are currently suffocating plant life on this planet with our extremely low levels of CO2.

I have created a picture of what dry air (what you are breathing right now minus water vapor) looks like below (click to enlarge):

1 “dot” = 100 ppm

Green is Nitrogen 780,800 ppm (78.08 %)
Blue is Oxygen 209,500 ppm (20.95 %)
Orange is Argon 9,300 ppm (0.93 %)
Black is Carbon Dioxide 350 ppm (0.03 %)
Red is other 50 ppm (0.01 %)

Water vapor, depending on temperature and available moisture, is anywhere from 1000 ppm (0.1%) to 40,000 ppm (4 %) of our air.

All the Global Warming alarmism is based on computer models saying carbon dioxide will go up to 450-600 ppm over the next decades or centuries from our fossil fuel burning. So, instead of 3 black dots there will be 5 or 6 in our air picture above. How does this destroy the planet?! Keep in mind, water vapor is a greenhouse gas also and fluctuates all the time from maybe 10 - 400 “dots” in our air picture!

The chart below shows the greenhouse gases and how much we as humans contribute. Numbers vary greatly depending on the source, so I took 4 different sources and averaged them. If anyone can find a good breakdown of how much CO2 is released by man (Burning fossil fuels and burning wood) and how much is natural (animal and people breathing, natural fires, volcanoes, vegetation and animal decay) I would appreciate it.

Clearly, we do not have as big of an impact on greenhouse gasses as we are led to believe.

But is the increase in CO2 bad for us?
Humans breathe out about 45,000 ppm carbon dioxide. At 20,000 ppm humans will increase heart rate and breathing. At 50,000 ppm we will become dizzy and have difficulty breathing. At 80,000 ppm we will get headaches, sweating, and lose of consciousness in 5-10 minutes. So carbon dioxide levels would have to go up over 50 fold (5000%) for us to even notice!

Even as CO2 levels have increased slightly (20 ppm) over the last 10 years, temperatures have not. In fact, they may be showing a downward trend over the last 5 years.

In conclusion, I don’t understand the hysteria over carbon dioxide. It does not seem to directly cause heating/cooling of the earth. At most, it is a small player of a secondary warming effect of which we only contribute or can control a small percentage. It is, however, an absolute necessity for all life.

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1 comment:

  1. The first most important step for total control is to stop teaching science. Now the government can be the only authority on science. Next stop teaching math, that way no one can understand their actual cost to fund the government. Next total government control is easy. Shame on you for telling the truth. If this gets out the plan is doomed. Well not really, it is too late, stupid rules!