In an otherwise fine article at WattsUpwithThat.com, Ari Halperin writes:
For some time, the subject [of the residence time of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere] was surrounded by confusion, created by sloppy definitions and evasive statements in IPCC assessment reports. There was a mix-up between the residence time of a CO2 molecule in the atmosphere and the rate of change of the surplus CO2 concentration. The residence time (~5 years) is of little interest, except as an indication of quick carbon turnaround. The true subject of interest is the rate of change of the surplus carbon concentration in the atmosphere. Another issue was the link between CO2 concentration and temperature. On the geological timescale, the rise in CO2 concentration tends to follow the temperature rise, concurring with a hypothesis that the latter causes the former. Nevertheless, such an effect is not significant on the multi-decadal scale. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere grows mostly because of anthropogenic release of CO2 through fossil fuels combustion and land use changes.
What’s wrong with that paragraph? Nothing that isn’t wrong with a vast amount of writing by climate realists: the inadvertent embrace of the misleading language of climate alarmists. Halperin refers to “the residence time of a CO2 molecule in the atmosphere and the rate of change of the surplus CO2 concentration,” which is accurate language, but then he refers to “the rate of change of the surplus carbon concentration in the atmosphere,” which is inaccurate language—and it plays right into the hands of climate alarmists.
To gin up public panic, climate alarmists routinely call carbon dioxide “carbon.” Of course that’s simply horrendous chemistry. Carbon is an element, sixth on the Periodic Table. As fine particles of dust, we call it soot, and, inhaled sufficiently, it’s dangerous, causing upper respiratory diseases. Carbon dioxide is a molecule consisting of one atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen. In the atmosphere, it is a gas—odorless, colorless, tasteless, and, except at very high concentrations (above ~30,000 ppmv, depending on length of exposure; the global atmospheric concentration now is ~400 ppmv, and human breath exhaled is typically ~40,000 ppmv) for long periods, nontoxic. It is essential to photosynthesis and animal respiration (its elevation in the bloodstream triggering autonomic exhalation), and the more of it there is in the atmosphere, the better plants grow, making more food for everybody.
So by calling carbon dioxide “carbon,” the alarmists fool people. They raise specters of black soot that’s truly dangerous to health. Then they speak of a “carbon tax,” or “carbon footprint,” or reducing “carbon emissions” or “carbon pollution,” and the unwary public duly salivates—despite the fact that all those photos of clouds of “smoke” billowing out of the “smokestacks” of power plants shown when climate alarmists warn about all the “carbon” spewing into the atmosphere actually show no carbon dioxide at all (because it’s invisible), but almost entirely condensing water vapor—which, like carbon dioxide, is quite welcome to plants.
So here’s a call for climate realists to eschew forever the shorthand “carbon” when we mean “carbon dioxide.” Whenever we quote the alarmists using the term that way, we should follow it with [sic; actually carbon dioxide, an odorless, colorless, nontoxic gas essential to plant photosynthesis and animal respiration] the first time, and [sic; actually carbon dioxide] every following time in the same article. I know, I know, that might seem pedantic. But we need to do this to drum out of the public’s mind (as the alarmists have drummed into it) the false equation of carbon and carbon dioxide, and drum into its mind (as they’ve drummed out of it) the true distinction between the two.
Featured image courtesy of thewritingzone, Creative Commons.