Global Warming is Natural…Yeah, Yeah, We’ve Heard it Before

  • Published on May 4th, 2009

Republican Minority Leader John BoehnerThe other week I posted a video of House Minority Leader John Boehner claiming that carbon dioxide is no big deal. The statement was in response to a question from George Stephanopoulos about the Republican solution to global warming.

His answer, word-for-word, follows:

“The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it’s harmful to our environment, is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

He argues that carbon dioxide is a natural ingredient in the atmosphere, and that there’s no reason to believe that man has a lot to do with putting it up there. Global warming itself, therefore, is natural.

We’ve all heard this argument before. It’s been the mantra of Republican leaders ever since the global warming debate began to gain more attention in news media. Remember Sarah Palin’s famous words about how the cause of global warming doesn’t even matter?

What these Republican leaders don’t realize, or maybe they do but aren’t telling, is that the arguments they are using have been used before for other disputes…and those claims have always been proven wrong.

People like Boehner are relying on what can be termed “junk science,” according to professors I have here at school who teach, and study, the environment. It’s the type of science that has been used to make arguments against regulations that helped quell acid rain and algae blooms.

The arguments I’m talking about are always the same:

What’s happening is a natural process, not reversible and too expensive to even do anything about in the first place.

In the 1980s, electric companies lobbied the government and delayed regulation against restrictions that would limit the amount of sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions into the atmosphere, using those same arguments. However, all of those were proven wrong: Analysis of fossils showed that sulfuric and nitric acid in lakes only appeared after the Industrial Revolution; lakes could be put back to their original state; and the cost was actually billions of dollars less than was predicted.

The same thing happened with eutrophication, or what happens when too much of a nutrient is pumped into a water body. Plants grow out of hand, choking the rest of life in the water, creating algae blooms (the yucky, green coating on water) and dead zones. Corporations didn’t want to spend the money to get phosphorus, the nutrient that makes algae grow the most, out of laundry detergent that was ending up in Lake Erie and killing fish and other organisms. So they argued that phosphorus wasn’t the bad nutrient, that eutrophication was natural and not reversible (sound familiar?).

When they were finally ordered to take the phosphorus out of detergent, Lake Erie bloomed again in the 1970s, full of life.

The point here is that arguments such as these, which are exactly the ones that the skeptics of global warming are making, are junk science. The major science academies say that the earth is warming, that we are the cause and that there are dire consequences. Why are we still not believing them? Why are our leaders still making baseless claims based on politics rather than on science?

It’s interesting to note that the environment isn’t the only thing that’s been hit with junk science. Tobacco companies tried to use the same tactic before their ads were banned in the United States, relying on “experts” who said that there’s no way smoking can cause cancer. Even back in Ancient times, people who had no idea what they were talking about argued that the earth is flat…and there’s still a Flat Earth Society nowadays to further that belief.

Who knows, maybe at the end of the century, when our large coastal cities are all under water, Republican has-beens will have their own “Carbon Dioxide Rocks Society.”

Photo Credit: Right_Winger at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

My name is Amanda, and I'm a recent grad from Michigan State University. At MSU I was involved in the environmental journalism program and have written for the school's environmental journal and E, The Environmental Magazine. I'm delving into freelancing now, and will spend the summer in NYC as an intern at NYC Parks and Recreation.