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 CO2science.org 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.