Climate Change and Pollution are Two Separate Things

Conflating "pollution" with "climate change" is causing us to waste a lot of time, effort, and money. One of these (pollution) we can control. The other we cannot.

How is it that so many people can't understand the not-so-subtle "nuance" between climate change and pollution? In a recent letter

The only way that pollution, CO2, and climate change are remotely related is in the fact that the federal government mis-defined carbon dioxide--one of the most vital nutrients for plant life on earth--as a pollutant.

to the editors of the Deseret News, Scot Morgan ("Humans Partly to Blame", 10/8/2009) chastizes Frank Overfelt for not believing that humans have much of anything to do with climate change (which we don't), but as supposed proof that we do cause climate change, he lists ways that we cause pollution. In an attempt to make an otherwise excellent point regarding our stewardship of the environment, Morgan suddenly finds himself in the left field of global warming.

Pollution and climate change are two different things. One does not cause the other.

In his letter, Morgan stated:
Brigham Young declared: "The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness." Yet we have suffered it to be so, primarily for the accumulation of personal wealth. We can stop being litter-bugs and curtail our use of plastic. To wring our hands and pretend we are not culpable of the consequences of our habits or incapable of making better decisions is dishonest.
I completely agree. But what does this (pollution) have to do with climate change? Nothing.

The only way that pollution, CO2, and climate change are remotely related is in the fact that the federal government mis-defined carbon dioxide--one of the most vital nutrients for plant life on earth--as a pollutant.

In his recent work entitled Heaven and Earth: Global Warming-The Missing Science, Ian Plimer notes that pollution can shorten life, but that CO2 does not shorten life, therefore CO2 is not a pollutant. Plimer reminds us that
Carbon dioxide is a plant food, is necessary for life, and without CO2 there would be no complex life on earth. Car exhaust consist of [both] harmless gases (CO2, nitrogen, H2O vapor) [and] pollutants (carbon monoxide...nitric oxide...sulfur dioxide [etc.]

Heaven and Earth, page 12
While CO2 is a nutrient for plants, smog--containing actual pollutants--can kill plants, along with animals and people. Why don't we concentrate on controlling pollution in those areas of the globe where it is still a problem? Because the religion of global warming is siphoning off and wasting most of our financial resources. Plimer writes
At present, China emits more sulfur dioxide than any other country in the world, and this chokes people, causes acid rain, damages life, and destroys buildings. The "Asian Brown Cloud" covers an area as large as Australia, obscuring the sun in some polluted Asian cities. It has a profound effect on human health. At times it...covers the Northern Hemisphere. Darker soot falling on snow and ice allows it to absorb more solar energy and may contribute to more rapid melting of snow and ice.

Heaven and Earth
, page 13
Plimer states further that
The public have rightfully become less tolerant of pollution, and much progress has been made to clean up the Western world.
Why have we become less tolerant of pollution? Because pollution has an observable, measurable, negative effect on our environment. To this day,

Pollution has an observable, measurable, negative effect on our environment. To this day, no similar observation or measurement has been made with regard to CO2's effect on climate change.

no similar observation or measurement has been made with regard to CO2's effect on climate change. The only thing about CO2 that has been measured is that its minuscule presence in the atmosphere has been going up.

If we started admitting that humans can have an effect on pollution, but that we cannot have much of an effect at all on climate change, we'd all be eminently better off. Then we might start to actually focus on a genuine environmental catastrophe--one that we can possibly hope to control.


  1. Great points about C02 and climate change and their mythical connection.

  2. Frank, there is some respectable evidence which suggests that humans are not responsible for global climate change. But for you to jump from that to the assertion that we cannot impact the climate seriously calls into question your objectivity. You've already made up your mind that it is absolutely impossible for humanity to impact the climate, and you are closed off to any new data suggesting otherwise.

    To claim that there is no connection between global climate change and pollution because carbon dioxide is "mis-defined" as a pollutant is a bit deceptive. Life on this planet requires a pretty specific molecular composition of the atmosphere. Oxygen is a vital nutrient for animal life, correct? Yet what happens if we breathe pure oxygen? We die. Is that not the same if plant life is exposed to too much carbon dioxide? The effect is detrimental whether we introduce new materials (the various gases and particulate matter we refer to as smog) or change the balance of original gases (such as carbon dioxide). Why quibble about whether that is "pollution" or not? Why assume nothing bad could happen, so insist that we not worry about the production of carbon dioxide and other green house gases?

    Ironically, a great many of the efforts to reduce the carbon emissions you are certain pose no threat would also reduce the air pollution that you agree is bad. Better emissions standards for vehicles and industrial processes (something conservatives typically protest) would both reduce carbon and reduce smog. So would higher consumption taxes, like increased tax on gas--something at which conservatives also typically balk. Increased investment in renewable fuels would reduce fossil fuel consumption, virtually all of which release carbon (again ironically, the one which doesn't and about which you've enthusiastic--natural gas--causes a number of other pollution problems, as I recently noted on FB). But then, conservatives have frequently scorned the more financially expensive renewables in favor of the financially cheaper (and environmentally more expensive) fossil fuels. "Drill baby, drill!"

    So what pollution control measures do you feel would be appropriate?

  3. Great point, Frank. Even for those who believe pollution may be directly tied to climate change, addressing pollution should be the primary goal.

    But honestly, would any attempt to address our pollution have gotten as much attention and become such a part of the lexicon of household understanding if it hadn't been for Al Gore (even the ire he generates in "deniers" helps to achieve his awareness goals) and the discussions centered around "climate change"?

  4. Jason: You might be right. On the other hand, we may have been farther along had Al Gore gotten on the right bandwagon in the first place. I would have respected him much more if he had done so.

  5. Frank, I appreciate the effort and research you put into your blogs. The fact that you can give us things to think about and try to make a difference in the world is great. You would make a good president. ! Your fan, Annette p.s my friend Tammy Torress and her mom are enjoying your blog.

  6. Since you sent me this link, I wanted to point out a few things about your sources. Ian Plimer is a director of 3 mining companies and is an associate of the Institute of Public Affairs, which is largely funded by mining, tobacco and oil and gas companies. He is hardly an impartial source.

    I find that most of the global warming skeptics are associated with groups either funded by corporations who stand to lose in the event anything meaningful is done in response to global warming or groups that are secretive about their funding.

    While there may be legitimate scientific rationales for failing to believe some tenets of the global warming proponents, I don't put any store in people who have a vested interest in raising skepticism.

  7. I wonder if he's not seeing the connection between CO2 and climate change because the effects are not as obvious or quick and the dots connecting them are much more broad.

    Over and over I've read in science magazines (even before the whole global warming debate) that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and can cause global warming. Back then, they didn't particularly specify man-made CO2 (which can be pollution) but CO2 from anywhere; it didn't matter where it came from, it was a greenhouse gas. The current anthropogenic global warming (AGW) proponents simply find a correlation between rising levels of man-made CO2 and global temperatures. That's it. That's what the science is based on. Not to mention the melting ice caps, unusual hurricane activity, and whatever else you can pin on global warming, the research suggests man is causing the current global warming trend.

    The problem is that global warming can cause unpredictable behaviour in the weather at best, and catastrophic cascading disasters at worst. You can choose what along the scale will happen, but global warming causes change in the environment. What I think Frank is missing is the connection between CO2 levels and the catastrophic disasters. What science is warning us about is that connection. What we need is a clear and concise (which I thought we had) connection between these dots, in national media, prime-time TV, educating the public of why the scientists think we're to blame. So far science has been pretty weak at this, probably because they are bad at PR and don't feel the need to explain every little point to the public. If they're wrong, that should be proven. If they're right, they need to prove it, because the majority of Americans (and the world) are not believing them. I myself, knowing science better than the average American, don't believe they are trying to pull a hoax on us, especially not for the almighty dollar (which can be made much easier in other markets), and have to go with the evidence. Because I can't research everything and am not in the field, I have to take their word for it unless I discover some reason to believe they are faking evidence.


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