I keep hearing about the “pollutant CO2,” or about “poisoning the atmosphere” with CO2, or about minimizing our “carbon footprint.” This brings to mind another Orwellian pronouncement that is worth pondering: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
CO2 is not a pollutant and it is not a poison and we should not corrupt the English language by depriving “pollutant” and “poison” of their original meaning.
Our exhaled breath contains about 4% CO2. That is 40,000 parts per million, or about 100 times the current atmospheric concentration. CO2 is absolutely essential for life on earth. Commercial greenhouse operators often use CO2 as a fertilizer to improve the health and growth rate of their plants. Plants, and our own primate ancestors evolved when the levels of atmospheric CO2 were about 1000 ppm, a level that we will probably not reach by burning fossil fuels, and far above our current level of about 380 ppm. We try to keep CO2 levels in our US Navy submarines no higher than 8,000 parts per million, about 20 times current atmospheric levels. Few adverse effects are observed at even higher levels.
By William Happer, Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, Princeton University
An extract from his submission to U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
To read the full submissions see:
http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/happer-testimony.pdf [PDF, 61 KB]