Climate deniers argue that CO2 is small so it can’t be important. You know, like viruses are small.

  • Published on April 29th, 2020

A recurring argument among deniers, particularly those more intent on appealing to the masses with oversimplifications than actually dealing with science, is that carbon dioxide is just too small a percentage of the atmosphere to matter. The latest example of this comes courtesy of a CFACT blog post by George W. Bush’s Yale roommate, Collister Johnson Jr., which was reposted last week by Climate Depot. Johnson laments that “this tiny, trace gas” that’s “essential for the proper operation of not only the lungs of humans, but also the breathing apparatus of nearly every living thing on Earth” has “been demonized into a harmful evil ‘pollutant’ – a toxic ‘emission.’”

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By Climate Denier Roundup

First of all, carbon dioxide is a waste product of human and other animal respiration. The comparison here is like saying exhaust is essential for running a car, so Johnson’s starting off on shaky grounds. But then he gets to the point, which is that if carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere were people in a basketball stadium with 10,000 seats, there’d only be four people sitting in them. And then the one additional person, representing human emissions by 2050, couldn’t possibly be “responsible for bringing about catastrophic warming of the planet.”

The idea that something small is therefore benign is always logically stupid, but especially so during a time when a microscopic organism that represents only a tiny proportion of the human body is responsible for killing tens of thousands of people around the world.

As dumb as the argument may be, one sentence in Johnson’s piece signals to something bigger. He says that the EPA’s endangerment finding, which studied the science and determined carbon dioxide was a pollutant, “is Exhibit A” of the “irrational group think” he blames for alarmism.

And in what is surely a coincidence, the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute released its latest request to the EPA to reconsider the Endangerment Finding a few days after Johnson’s CFACT post, and a couple days before Morano put the post up on ClimateDepot.

CEI’s report doesn’t seem like anything particularly new or compelling – it just regurgitates past nonsense about the models being wrong and overstating the amount of warming, and even if there was that much warming it’d be a good thing.

But it’s not the only one. At the beginning of April, the Hill ran an op-ed by a former Chamber of Commerce executive that was promoting another recent Endangerment petition to the EPA, this one from the fossil fuel-funded Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide. It also argues that models are wrong, offering mostly non-peer reviewed assertions made by their fellow deniers in blogs and white papers.

Unfortunately, since it’s the Trump Administration on the other end of these requests, no argument is too stupid for them to embrace. But even still, when Trump appointed William Happer (who has also talked about the demonization of CO2) to be a science advisor, Happer couldn’t get his plan to challenge the finding off the ground. He said it was due to brainwashed Republicans having political concerns about the optics, but there’s also the fact that successfully convincing judges to overturn the Endangerment Finding’s mountain of peer-reviewed science would require an even bigger mountain of peer-reviewed science that deniers simply don’t have.

But there is certainly a possibility that science has changed since 2009. Last year, a group of actual scientists tested how the science underpinning the Endangerment Finding had fared in the decade since it was made. They found that not only do the claims from 2009 stand, but that the “compelling case has been made even more compelling with an enormous body of additional data.”

It was published in Science.

(Crossposted with DailyKos. Image by Friends of the Earth.)

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