The dubious science of the climate crusaders
The object of the Author in the following pages has been to collect the most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been excited, sometimes by one cause and sometimes by another, and to show how easily the masses have been led astray, and how imitative and gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes,” wrote Charles Mackay in the preface to the first edition of his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. I want to discuss a contemporary moral epidemic: the notion that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, will have disastrous consequences for mankind and for the planet. The “climate crusade” is one characterized by true believers, opportunists, cynics, money-hungry governments, manipulators of various types—even children’s crusades—all based on contested science and dubious claims.
I am a strong supporter of a clean environment. We need to be vigilant to keep our land, air, and waters free of real pollution, particulates, heavy metals, and pathogens, but carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is not one of these pollutants. Carbon is the stuff of life. Our bodies are made of carbon. A normal human exhales around 1 kg of CO2 (the simplest chemically stable molecule of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere) per day. Before the industrial period, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 270 ppm. At the present time, the concentration is about 390 ppm, 0.039 percent of all atmospheric molecules and less than 1 percent of that in our breath. About fifty million years ago, a brief moment in the long history of life on earth, geological evidence indicates, CO2 levels were several thousand ppm, much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly.
Now the Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate atmospheric CO2 as a “pollutant.” According to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, to pollute is “to make or render unclean, to defile, to desecrate, to profane.” By breathing are we rendering the air unclean, defiling or desecrating it? Efforts are underway to remedy the old-fashioned, restrictive definition of pollution. The current Wikipedia entry on air pollution, for example, now asserts that pollution includes: “carbon dioxide (CO2)—a colorless, odorless, non-toxic greenhouse gas associated with ocean acidification, emitted from sources such as combustion, cement production, and respiration.”