That Terrible Pollutant, CO2

allows trees to get by on less water. Of course, this can’t possibly be allowed to be good news:

The immense volume of water that trees pull out of the ground winds up in the atmosphere, helping supply moisture to farming areas downwind of forests. So if trees use less water, that could ultimately mean less rain for thirsty crops in at least some regions of the world.

It could mean lots of things — good, bad and indifferent — and the vast majority of them unpredictable, given the non-linear nature of the equations and our lack of understanding of the complexity of all the interactions, which is why it’s crazy to be attempting to make costly public policy on the presumption that Carbon Is Evil.

41 thoughts on “That Terrible Pollutant, CO2

  1. Jim

    why it’s crazy to be attempting to make costly public policy on the presumption that Carbon Is Evil

    No doubt acid rain has some positive environmental effects, and some effects and interactions that we don’t understand. Is it crazy to make costly public policy to regulate sulphur emissions?

          1. Andrew W

            Plants need sulfur just as they need carbon, SO2 that’s in the atmosphere ends up being utilized by plants.

          2. Andrew W

            Thanks for the link Bart, it shows that SO2 can have either a growth promoting effect or a growth retarding effect on plants, depending on the plant species and conditions, I was only expecting a fertilizing effect from soil sulfur washed from the atmosphere.

            Air borne minerals have been acting as natural fertilizers throughout Earth history, a fact not open to debate.

      1. Jim

        much less complex, and much better understood

        Do you think it’s possible for us to ever understand CO2 emissions well enough to make public policy decisions based on that understanding?

        If so, how will we know we’ve reached that point?

        1. Rand Simberg Post author

          Do you think it’s possible for us to ever understand CO2 emissions well enough to make public policy decisions based on that understanding?

          I think it’s very unlikely, but not necessarily impossible.

          If so, how will we know we’ve reached that point?

          When we have models that actually work, in terms of hindcasting, and don’t have to play “nature tricks” to get them to do what we want them to do.

        2. Dick Eagleson

          Complete understanding is beside the point. What can be trivially pointed to are specific misunderstandings. The apocalyptic predictions of looming catastrophe trafficked by adherents of the Global Warming religion are based on global climate models, all of which have, without exception, been demonstrated to fail to “predict” the past. The main reason this is true is that all of these models assume water vapor, not carbon dioxide, to be the main cause of greenhouse effects. Rising carbon dioxide is supposed to be just the forcing agent of greater atmospheric water vapor concentrations. Problem is, actual measurements show no actual increase in average water vapor levels as carbon dioxide levels have increased. Rising carbon dioxide does not force water vapor increases and, thus, the last 15 or so years of zero net planetary warming are entirely consistent with the measured flat-line concentration of atmospheric water vapor. The sacred models are entirely wrong and there is no other “science” worthy of the name to support the preposterous fraud that is “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” or whatever the politically correct bien pensants are calling it these days.

    1. George Turner

      The US, although we burned massive amounts of coal, never had a problem with sulphur emissions, unlike the UK and Canada. The problem here was caused by sulfur, with an “f”. ^_^

    2. Tom W

      Jim – It’s amazing to me that you can NEVER address a point head-on. You always must put some sort of spin or deflection. Is that because you can’t really back up your points with facts and deep inside know that your positions are wrong?

      1. Paul Milenkovic

        I think that is what is meant by a straw-man argument? I don’t think it is a question of snark, spin, or deflection; I think it is a matter of avoiding the time and effort to craft a persuasive argument.

        CO2 in low concentrations is thoroughly benign to animal life and known to be beneficial to plant life. SO2 not so much, although I do spray lime sulfur in dormant season to control fungus on trees. Yeah, yeah, CO2 and acid oceans and reefs, but for land animals and plants, CO2 is nothing like SO2.

      2. Jim

        What isn’t head on about it? Rand argues that it’s crazy to regulate CO2 when we don’t understand all the effects, and I point out that we routinely regulate things without complete understanding of all the effects.

        1. Rand Simberg Post author

          Quantity has a quality all its own. The interactions of sulphur dioxide with the environment, and its obvious detriment, are much better understood than those of CO2. And one is an actual pollutant, the other is not.

  2. George Turner

    So many of these articles remind me of the way Enlightenment monks and clergy used to immediately wrestle with the theological implications of any new scientific finding. “Dolphins are actually mammals! Does God consider them fish anyway? What does this mean for Friday dolphin eaters?”

    If plants waste less water during respiration, that means there’s a greater reservoir of available water per plant. That means each plant has a higher availability of two of its primary requirements, CO2 and water. This will make forest plants bigger, allowing them to grow until water availability again becomes a factor, and soon pumping out exactly the same amount of water vapor that they did before – because they’re bigger. If they don’t then more water will stay in the ground, either refilling aquifers (and I must’ve missed all the scientific papers saying that depleting aquifers was a good thing), or it will flow downstream into rivers that are tapped for irrigation. Over the long term, everything will still balance or water will pile up and the forest will become a mountain swamp, a notoriously rare thing.

    ****

    Off topic, another 787 Dreamliner caught fire while sitting on the tarmac, closing both Heathrow runways. We might need another thread for the story so we can again harp on bad engineering and management decisions.

    1. George Turner

      Yeah, that’s not just smoke damage. It certainly left severe paint discoloration through the top of the rear fuselage.

  3. Formerly known as Skeptic

    “The immense volume of water that trees pull out of the ground winds up in the atmosphere…” So, more CO2 results in less H2O which is also a greenhouse gas (even moreso than CO2 if I’m not mistaken). Gee, I wonder if the all-powerful “models” take THAT into account.

  4. Andrew W

    allows trees to get by on less water

    Which is going to have zero effect on how much water vapor is up there.

    1. George Turner

      Hey, that’s why we have such severe droughts in March, April, May, and October back through March. No trees pumping water vapor out of their leaves.

      1. George Turner

        Horribly enough, someone in the climate science community will undoubtedly beat me to it. They publish anything, even that global warming will plunge Europe into an ice age.

  5. dcguy

    Rand,

    Are you even conceding that rising CO2 emissions are raising global mean temperatures and causing this change? I thought you disputed that
    rising Atmospheric Co2 was even causing any changes.

    1. Karl Hallowell

      Are you even conceding that rising CO2 emissions are raising global mean temperatures and causing this change?

      Bzzzt! You’re asking for two things from rising CO2 emissions – rising global mean temperatures, and higher accumulation consumption of CO2 by plants.

      Even if we concede both points (which incidentally, I do), what of it? That’s still a long ways from agreeing that we must inflict costly impairments of our society in order to reduce the effects of global warming. There’s this huge chasm between what we know and what some of us advocate that we should do. I want to see that patched up first. And you can start by convincing people like Rand that there actually is some sort of global warming going on in the first place.

      1. Rand Simberg Post author

        Actually, I’m willing to believe that the planet is warming, despite the fact that the temps haven’t risen in well over a decade. We are, after all, still coming out of the LIttle Ice Age.

    2. George Turner

      Well, we don’t actually know that they are, and the geological record makes a pretty good argument that they’re not. We have had vastly higher (and rising) CO2 levels while plummeting into an ice age.

      It’s an argument that assumes “all things being equal, and assuming strong positive feedbacks and no large heat transfer mechanisms that otherwise regulate things.” From aerodynamics, we know that waxing your car should make it go faster. In reality, it’s completely irrelevant to vehicle velocities because those are determined by other, much more important factors.

        1. George Turner

          The evidence appears in all the Antarctic ice core data. You know that “lag” they always talk about, where temperature leads CO2? That’s due to a phase difference (recently shown to be about 90 degrees) and when two signals are out of phase they get to pass each other heading in opposite directions, which is what the records repeatedly show.

          So we’ve had global temperatures skyrocket with low and falling CO2 levels, and we’ve had global temperatures plummet with high and rising CO2 levels.

          1. Andrew W

            Don’t know where you get the 90 degrees lag from, each glacial/interglacial cycle take about 100,000 years, the lag IIRC, is about 700 years, which is about a 7th of the time over which the rise occurs.

            The cycle is attributed to the Milankovitch cycles, changes in Earth orientation decrease polar insolation going from interglacial to glacial and increase polar insolation going from glacial to interglacial.

            As one would expect, because it’s these cycles that drive the initial transition period, the CO2 levels that result from the initial warming and cooling lag the changing temperature. If the CO2 were to start rising or falling before the temperature, the Milankovitch cycle theory wouldn’t make sense.

            I’m surprised someone hasn’t already explained this to you.

    3. Daver

      “Even conceding” or “even considering”?

      Even if it were established that increasing CO2 levels led to increasing temperatures, it’s not at all clear that it’s worthwhile doing anything about it. Lowering CO2 levels has a considerable cost for what appears to be a minor economic advantage. If I were world dictator I’d pump more money into fusion and fission research (particularly Thorium fission) and start hardening and adding redundancy to the power distribution network.

      Maybe there’s something we could hang from the unused windmills for decoration.

  6. ken anthony

    rising CO2 emissions are raising global mean temperatures

    …or is it that rising temperatures raise CO2 emissions as the data actually suggests?

    The equations are unknown and non linear. Only hubris suggests otherwise.

    The financial impact of central government control are much better understood and universally detrimental. So why are so many so eager to pursue it? Because they are F$#@$@#$ing evil bastards. Or as Hayek said, “Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things.” Such as government implementation of odious rules with no evidence of positive results and plenty of negative results… but no matter.

  7. Fletcher Christian

    George Turner – Not snark about spelling again! I might also add that in some cases the English English standard makes more sense than the American English one. A good example is “metre” when referring to the length unit. “Meter” – apparatus for measurement. “Metre” – unit of length. The point is that the distinction is made, in English English.

    Also, the American standard date notation makes less sense than the English one. And in fact, the international standard (yes, there is one) conforms to neither. Example; today’s date is 2013-07-13.

    About sulfur in particular, IUPAC agrees with you. Chemists should be using “sulfur” at least in English, no matter where they work.

    1. George Turner

      Well, “fluorescent” is pretty messed up, as is “nuclear” because its pronunciation of “ea” is extremely rare in English (it’s not like bear, dear, fear, gear, near, pear, rear, or tear).

      1. McGehee

        Ah, but the “ar” in “nuclear” is a suffix, and therefore the E and A are not a dipthong. Diphthong? Hafth thew evfer heard diphthong befthor?

      2. George Turner

        That still leaves it an odd construction, similar to “seer” (a prophet) or “freer” (more free or one who frees), “kneer” (the kid who kneed another kid in the groin), and “peer” (the person who wrote their name in the snow), but with an “ea” instead of an “ee”.

        Some suggest that because of its oddity we have the variant pronunciation “noo-kyu-lar”, which has more similarities to other English pronunciations, but the word original came from Latin “nucleus”, which was a variant of “nuculeus”(which is kind of hard to pronounce) which was equivalent to “nucula” (a little nut). Add “r” to “nucula” and there we go. Maybe we’ve had two pronunciations and one spelling ever since we started using the word (sometime around 1700).

  8. ken anthony

    What is absolutely ridiculous, because it completely ignores how words come to be used, is to attach after the fact rules and claim those that don’t follow them is somehow stupid. Stupid is believing the rules come before usage.

    Humans are pattern matchers. This often confuses them into thinking the pattern comes first. Reading old english text is very difficult at times (especially when it includes words that haven’t just changed but are no longer in use.)

    Creating words that aren’t in the dictionary IS human intelligence. Creative, non standard spelling as well. Creative. To create.

    Instead we have a society of apes mimicking each other and thinking that’s intelligence. No better example being all the moron’s that reflexively point out Sarah Palin’s errors that aren’t. I’ve learned more accurate history from following the apes pooh slinging at Sarah than any history class in school.

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