Carbon Queries

Everyone is talking about carbon lately, but I suspect very few actually know much about it. Indeed, it is not just carbon, but a whole range of related issues that we all seem eager to discuss but without much solid knowledge or understanding.

And fair enough – most of us are not scientists, so when complex scientific topics arise, most of us cannot weigh into them all that much. Most of us have to defer to the experts. But what happens when the experts are divided on these matters? What if there is no clear scientific consensus on some of these questions?

In the area of climate change and supposed human contributions to it, there is in fact a wide divergence of opinion in scientific circles and in public policy circles. But given that these are important issues, we should try to become a bit informed about them.

And Christians too should seek to become a little savvy on these issues. We believers know that we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation, and we should all have a proper concern for environmental matters. The problem is, many believers can go off half-cocked here, making pronouncements which may or may not have a solid scientific foundation.

Consider just one example of this I came across lately. A Christian on another site very eagerly and excitedly was promoting an initiative of a Christian organisation. It was a “Carbon Fast”. This person wanted us all to get involved and spread the word.

I am afraid I was not as eager as this person was, and before I could promote anything, I had to get a bit of clarification on a few matters. So I replied with a few questions. I posted a comment with words to this effect:

“Given that carbon is present in every known life form, just what are you asking for in this fast? Respectfully, are you suggesting we bump off some living things? Are you maybe referring to carbon dioxide instead? But this is also essential for life, and its involvement with photosynthesis underlies most of our ecosystems. Also, respectfully, just what exactly is ‘climate justice’?”

For some reason, I never received a reply from this person. Perhaps they could not answer the questions, or did not want to answer the questions. Yet this is a well-known evangelical Christian group. At least it used to be. I sort of wonder, what happened to the gospel? Like many such groups today, much of the emphasis seems to be all about trendy secular causes.

As I said, Christians are called to care for this planet. But if someone calls us to take some radical steps, but then is not able to answer some simple questions about it, then maybe we are beginning to lose the plot somewhat. Zeal without knowledge or understanding is not exactly a virtue.

Telling people to join a “Carbon Fast” which may mean nothing, or achieve nothing, or might even be counterproductive, is hardly a good way to engage in Christian activism. Yes we should be involved in the issues of the day, and a bit of passion is OK, but it should be informed and rational passion.

Since this person was not willing or able to respond to my queries, let me do so myself. And I will do this by means of a new article which has just appeared, providing some easy-to-understand info on carbon, CO2 and the like. So let me here pass on to you some remarks by Paul Driessen. First, the basics:

“Carbon (chemical symbol C) is what we burn to get energy to power modern society. Carbon is the molecular building block for wood, charcoal and coal, and hydrocarbons (HC) like oil and natural gas. Cars and power plants do not emit carbon, except in the form of soot. Thus, talk of ‘carbon disclosure’ or ‘reducing our carbon emissions’ is misleading, unless one is confessing how much charcoal was used at a picnic, or apologizing for not having pollution controls on a wood-burning stove.

“Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, deadly gas. A natural product of combustion, it increases when ventilation is poor, oxygen levels are low and burning is inefficient. It’s why we shouldn’t use charcoal grills indoors or operate cars in garages, unless we’re suicidal.

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) is another natural byproduct of combustion, from power plants, factories, vehicles, homes, hospitals and other users of wood, coal, petroleum and biofuels. This is what many environmental activists, politicians and scientists blame for recent and future climate change. (The other major byproduct is water vapor or steam – plus pollutants that reflect impurities in the fuel and are removed via scrubbers and other technologies, or reduced by controlling the temperature, airflow and efficiency of combustion processes: sulfur and nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury and so on.)”

Many scientists argue that CO2 is not a major contributor to climate change. “It plays only a minor role, they argue, in a complex, chaotic climate system that is driven by numerous natural forces, cycles, and positive and negative feedback loops. They also note that CO2 increases have followed, not preceded, temperature rises, throughout Earth’s history.

“CO2 constitutes a mere 0.0380% of our atmosphere. That’s 380 parts per million (380 ppm), which sounds much more threatening, especially when used in juxtaposition with the pre-Industrial Revolution figure of 280 ppm. But even that 100 ppm increase represents only 0.0100% of Earth’s atmosphere – equivalent to one penny out of $100. 380 is far below historical CO2 levels. During the Jurassic and Early Carboniferous periods, geologists calculate, our atmosphere contained 1,500-2,500 ppm carbon dioxide. However, even at today’s comparatively CO2-impoverished levels, this trace gas is vital to the health of our planet.

“As every grade schooler learns, CO2 enables photosynthesis and plant growth: carbon dioxide in, oxygen out, through complex chemical reactions. Without CO2, there would be no plants and no oxygen; life as we know it would cease. Carbon dioxide is truly the ‘gas of life’ – and no attempt by Al Gore, James Hansen or EPA to brand it as a dangerous pollutant can change that.”

So what accounts for the 100 ppm rise? “As oceans warmed after the Little Ice Age ended 160 years ago, they released some of their carbon dioxide storehouses. (As with beer and soda water, seawater is able to retain less CO2 as it warms.) The rest came from hydrocarbon fuels burned during the Industrial Revolution and modern era, and from billions more impoverished people still burning wood and animal dung in open fires.

“Though vilified by radical greens and climate alarmists, hydrocarbon energy and the Industrial Revolution have hugely benefitted mankind. They doubled average life expectances in industrialized nations and increased prosperity, overall health and living standards, in proportion to the ability of poor communities to acquire electricity and modern technologies. Thus, telling poor countries to limit hydrocarbon use, and focus instead on wind and solar power, sharply limits their ability to modernize, create jobs, and improve health, living conditions and life spans.

“And all that extra CO2 from electrical generation and other economic activities? As Drs. Craig and Sherwood Idso explain on their website and in their fascinating book, The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment, the extra carbon dioxide has blessed people and planet in at least 55 ways.”

After looking at some of these ways, he concludes: “Attempts to coerce expanded wind and solar installations will require that we devote still more land, raw materials and taxpayer subsidies to these expensive, unreliable energy supplies. And trying to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants and factories will require trillions of dollars and vast supplies of energy, to take this plant-fertilizing gas out of the atmosphere and inject it under high pressure deep into the earth – and keep it from escaping, to kill animals and people.

“To get 1000 megawatts of net electricity from a power plant designed for CO2-capture-and-storage would require building (at minimum) a 1300-MW plant, burning at least one-third more fuel than a conventional plant does, using over one-third of the 1300 MW to power the CCS equipment – and paying much higher electricity prices. The impact on factories, shops, jobs, household budgets and fuel supplies would be significant.

“Legislators and regulators need to focus on controlling unhealthy amounts of real pollutants (based on valid medical and environmental science) – and keep their pesky hands off our CO2!”

Whether organisations that at least began as evangelical Christian groups should devote so much of their time and energy to matters like this is a moot point. But what is less unclear is that if passionate Christians seek to endorse these sorts of activities, they should at least know a bit about what they are talking about. Otherwise they maybe should not be quite so bold and relentless in pushing these various schemes – especially if such schemes may in the end cause more harm than good.

[1488 words]

23 Replies to “Carbon Queries”

  1. Perhaps oxygen fasting is the problem? Affecting the ability to think?
    Maybe oxygen fasting is the solution? A good half hour without oxygen would decrease one’s carbon buttprint. Certainly makes no less sense than carbon fasting.

    Michael Hutton

  2. Thank you for this article. I have seldom seen the effects of having CO2 explained so well. I really don’t understand why it is that some people want to take CO2 from the atmosphere and store it deep in the earth – it just seems to me a bit like a fairy tale, and I keep waiting for the good fairy to wave her wand and restore sanity to the people.
    Joan Davidson

  3. What is not perhaps well known is that the world’s largest emitters of CO2 – USA and China – are not imposing ‘carbon’ taxes, whereas Australia, with a miserly 1.5% of global emissions, is hell-bent on doing so. Lunacy!
    Dunstan Hartley

  4. Bill,

    Why does the greenhouse effect get no mention in your article?

    Our planet is only habitable because of greenhouse gases. It’s what makes Earth’s surface 30C warmer on average than the Moon, which is at a similar distance from the Sun. CO2 is one of the most important greenhouse gases. We ignore the increase in its concentration at our peril.

    Mike Harrison

  5. I was reading Romans this morning for a women’s group I go to and Romans 1:20-26 reached out and grabbed me.

    This excellent passage to me describes the madness of the world’s obsession with these environmentalist issues; they deny creation and worship Darwin; they worship the ‘creature rather than the Creator’ or in this case, Gaia, ‘mother earth’; in order to avoid the obvious, that this world is the awesome handiwork of a Creator, they exercise their ‘vain imaginations’ to come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful sciences to devote themselves to, just so there is no mention of Creator God. Professing themselves ‘wise’, cool and very clever, they become fools (in God’s eyes).

    And isn’t it interesting that the Left are not known for their ‘cleanness’ of morals? (See v24)

    The thought that Christians are foolish enough to wallow in the world’s pigswill is tragic. When we of all people should be putting our priorities into order. We worship Creator God, NOT Gaia. We’re not trying to sound cool or wise in the world’s eyes by going along with their nonsense. We are the ones with the Truth.

    Dee Graf

  6. Mike Harrison,
    the fact is that water vapour is far and above of much greater significance as a green-house gas. Also referring to the moon is totally irrelevant as it has no significant atmosphere.
    Peter Newland

  7. Thanks Bill for accurate information. I would like to add that people with respiratory problems are given medical gas typically consisting of 95 percent oxygen and 50,000 ppm (5 percent) carbon dioxide. This gas can also be obtained with CO2 ranging from 1% to as high as 10% for treating people who have been asphyxiated. If we are to believe the Greens etc then 0.0380% is dangerous then means that our medicos have got it wrong. In a recent interview that I did with Professor Bob Carter he pointed our that the Carbon Tax will cost the average family just under $3000 per year and result will be 0.01% reduction in global temperature. When I contacted all the Qld senators unfortunately all the labor senators responded with the party line of ‘polluters must pay’. I don’t get that intelligent people have been so brian washed in the face of hard facts.
    Peter Janetzki

  8. Mike H, you said:

    CO2 is one of the most important greenhouse gases. We ignore the increase in its concentration at our peril.

    On what basis do you make the assertion of peril?

    Allowing that this forum isn’t the place for laying out a thesis-length reply, can you supply credible evidence of the extent of the peril, the causes, and the solutions proposed to deal with those causes?

    Recall, please, that computer models of the atmosphere are not evidence, they are predictors. And so far, the predictors have failed to replicate even past actual events.

    John Angelico

  9. Mike Harrison, nobody is ignoring the increase in CO2 concentration, but some of us are welcoming this slight increase and the benefits that it brings.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  10. To think that the CO2 component of the atmosphere is 0.039% and that mans contribution to this fraction is a sum total of at most 4% and then Australia’s contribution of this infinitesimally small figure is 1.5%, I’ll leave it for others to do the final maths to arrive at the devastating impact of this amount of “pollution” on the world!
    And then we dare call this consensus science as if there even is such a thing.
    Gerry Van Hees

  11. Mike you might like to ponder as to the main temperature driver for our planet.
    Mars with a distance of ~227mill.Klms from the sun and an atmosphere of 95% CO2 and temps of ~ -63C
    Earth with a distance of ~149mill.Klms from the sun and an atmosphere of 0.039% CO2 and temps of ~ 7C
    Venus with a distance of ~108mill.Klms from the sun and an atmosphere of 96% CO2 and temps of ~ 467C
    Gerry Van Hees

  12. I am puzzled that there is no mention that God has created our world with processes in place to keep it all going. Yes we need to be responsible environmentalists. Our vegetation has been doing a good job to maintain CO2 levels as they are. What would the level be otherwise?
    Also I am concerned that only emissions are considered and ask the question “Is Australia a net emitter or a net absorber of CO2? The answer to this should be a guide. We don’t decide on water restrictions by our usage of water but by the net input/output situation.
    The term “putting a price on carbon” should be putting a price on CO2 and $30/tonne has been suggested, this is for the mixture of C and O2 and actually extends to around $100/tonne of carbon. Are we being conned with $30 being mentioned when it should be $100?
    Denis Colbourn

  13. Good Point, Mike,

    The greenhouse effect is what makes our planet habitable. Compare the moon.

    It does not and can not make our planet uninhabitable.

    Michael Hutton

  14. When I read your first comment, Mike, I found in it reason to praise my creator God, for it appeared that it is He who put the CO2 there. Obviously, as it has been pointed out, it is necessary for life on earth to exist. Maybe we should concentrate more on real pollutants like lead, carbon monoxide etc and I believe much innovation has already be applied to even existing coal fired plants as in extractors etc.
    Thanks Bill for this well balanced article, often Christians are being reported as not caring for the environment at all, but good stewardship has an important place in the kingdom of God, it is just not in value above the salvation of eternal souls and the nourishment, protection and prospering of earthly human bodies.
    Thanks for the mention of the book, I hope to share it with Christians that I know that try to be greener than the greens.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  15. James Taylor, senior fellow for environmental policy – The Heartland Institute writes in the Forbes Magazine that a new EPA report stated that China’s emissions have been increasing by nearly 10% a year and in 2010 would probably surpass the emissions of the entire Western Hemisphere.
    This means that even if the US and the entire Western Hemisphere immediately and completely eliminated all carbon dioxide emissions, the growth in Chinese emissions alone would likely render this action moot within a decade.
    Madge Fahy

  16. I find it curious that conservative Christians are almost uniformly climate sceptics, and I wonder if this has more to do with politics than science. The comments here indicate that most of you have only a very superficial understanding of science, yet you all seem to believe you are smarter than the professional experts and you are absolutely certain that the whole thing is a scam. Why do conservatives so often fall for conspiracy theories?

    John Lewisham, NSW

  17. Thanks John

    I find it curious that leftist secularists – and Christians – are almost uniformly climate panic merchants and true believers, and I wonder if this has more to do with politics than science. Their comments here indicate that they have only a very superficial understanding of science, yet they seem to believe they are smarter than the professional experts and they are absolutely certain that the whole thing is gospel truth. Why do leftists so often fall for conspiracy theories?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Peter Newland, please be quiet or the powers that be may start putting meters on our kettles so that they can tax the water vapour produced. 🙂

    Mario Del Giudice

  19. “I find it curious that conservative Christians are almost uniformly climate sceptics.” -John Lewisham

    John can I encourage you to check out Joanne Nova’s web page Jo is a freelance science presenter, writer, professional speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic’s Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in ten languages). She is a former climate change believer and changed her stance after looking at the science. And I don’t think that she is a Christian.

    Peter Janetzki

  20. Thanks Peter

    Yes there are plenty of non-conservatives and non-Christians who do not buy the climate change paranoia.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. John Lewisham dismisses skeptics of warm-mongering as “more to do with politics than science.’

    But the whole warm-mongering nonsense is due to politicians cherry-picking from the alarmists, and ignoring highly qualified dissenting scientists.

    Also, even if science showed that global warming, or is that climate change, is a Bad Thing, it can’t show that a proposed remedy is good for mankind. For example, Ju-Liar’s “carbon tax” (are diamonds exempt?) will impoverish Australia and drive businesses overseas, but not even make a detectable difference in world CO2 levels. This is a political move, and should be opposed politically. For the world as a whole, it seems preferable to have greater wealth and a degree of extra warmth in a century, preventing that warming at the cost of much more poverty.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  22. It appears to me that those who are looking at truth are the ones that are climate sceptics. They may not all have arrived at ultimate truth, which equals the Lord Jesus Christ, but I pray they will not stop short of that, because Jesus said “whoever is of the truth will hear my voice”. This is true in every aspect of life and science, be it climate change or anything else.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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