Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
“We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.”
--- Eric Hoffer
CO2 Is Not Green (& Why This Is a Common Tactic From Climate Change Denialists)
In the ongoing debate about climate change, deniers always seem to have a new tactic. Case in point: A commentator left disparaging messages on an article I wrote. The story was a critique of an infamous climate change denialist. The fact that the article pertained to climate change—despite being about the individual in question—was enough for this person to unleash his vitriol.
He ranted about how wrong I was, and posted a few links to a pseudoscience site to support his screed. In addition, he used the typical talking points that these exchanges tend to have.
These banters were:
- The climate always changes;
- Graphs and charts show years of steady temperatures;
- The world is actually cooling;
- It’s just a ploy to promote carbon tax;
- It’s part of a conspiracy by climate scientists to get more funding; and
- Al Gore is behind it.
To say the least, I’ve heard them all. And much of it has already been debunked by those who know a thing or two about climate science. Still, one line from his long, rambling comment got my attention.
“The increase of CO2 helps trees,” he wrote.
This wasn’t the first time, someone uttered this to me. A denialist on Twitter made the same type of comment on another article of mine. He claimed that carbon dioxide (CO2) was a natural gas that helps trees grow. I responded, but it was obvious he didn’t like it.
“I guess we need to stop cutting down the rain forest, then.” I wrote before he blocked me.
At the time, I took it for what it was: an overgeneralization of the role of CO2 in nature. Sure, CO2 is a naturally occurring gas, but it’s also the byproduct of industrial manufacturing. Too much of it can be a bad thing. These commentators, as far as I was concerned didn’t have a true understanding how it worked. Maybe, I thought this rhetoric from the two was coincidence.
Then, another an article from a climate-changer denier emerged. Then another from a known conservative commentator. Seemingly, blogs, vlogs, forums, social media, and other sites catering to the climate-change debate erupted into a “CO2 is good” mantra.
As a radio host once said, coincidence takes a lot of work. Somebody or something (a bot?) was spreading a false narrative that the denier were eating up and spitting out onto an unsuspecting audience.
The CO2 is Good movement is seemingly everywhere. However, its existence is no accident or a mere misunderstanding of science. For over a decade, a pressure group has been aggressively pumping out a campaign to reverse the designation of CO2 as a pollutant.
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In addition, conservative pundits and deceptive “educational” organizations have used newspapers, the Internet, TV and radio to get their message to the masses. Although the information is easily debunked, it’s still reaching the hearts and mind of those that can influence public perception and policies on climate change.
How "CO2 Is Green" Was Born
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated CO2 as a pollutant that contributes to global warming. CO2 is considered a greenhouse gas. These gases prevent heat radiating from the Earth’s surface from escaping, thus trapping it and raising the temperature of the atmosphere. Although CO2 naturally occurs by means of decaying organisms and volcanic eruptions, it has been excessively produced by means of human activities.
The science was there to explain it; however, the need to label it a pollutant didn’t sit well with all. Immediately, a pressure group formed by two executive officers from the oil and energy industry came to fruition.
Leighton Steward and Corbin J. Robertson Jr. founded the organization and its entities. Steward was a retired vice chairperson of the oil and gas company, Burlington Resource. Robertson was a chief executive for Natural Resource Partners—a coal-resourcing corporation. The men and their pressure group are based in Houston, Texas. In addition, they established CO2 Is Green as a non-profit 501(c) (4); in other words, it is non tax-deductible and can engage in lobbying activities. Its sister site, Plants Needs CO2, is listed as 501 (c) (3), making them a charity with tax-deductible designation.
In addition, the site also promotes the concept of global cooling – a long debunked belief that the world was actually cooling rather than warming.
The new entity became CO2 Is Green. The name referred to the supposed message the group wanted to instill in the public: Carbon dioxide is actually good for the environment.
CO2 Is Green is a website, and its purpose is to be for advocacy. This particular site pushes its audience to contact their legislature (in particular, members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works) to remove CO2 from the EPA’s list of pollutants.
In addition, the site also promotes the concept of global cooling—a long debunked belief that the world was actually cooling rather than warming.
The organization promotes outside its website, too. In the past, they’ve launched aggressive ad campaigns by buying ad spaces in newspapers, radio and TV in several states.
"Plants Need CO2" Emerges
One site wasn’t enough. A sister website emerged. Plants Need CO2 is most likely where the slogan “carbon is good for trees” came from. Like CO2 Is Green, this site has a purpose—to focus on education. This includes slick video productions and glowing articles about the “scientific” benefits of CO2.
In addition, due to “education” designation, it appears that the site can get through filters that schools may have on its computers. Thus, this site may have more far-reaching impact on unsuspecting students searching for information on global warming and anything associated with it.
Plants Need CO2 has become a more accessible site for another reason. When trying to go directly to CO2 Is Green through Google, a warning popped up, stating that the site was not secure and that there may be someone trying to steal identities from those visiting the site.
Scrutiny on Goals
Generally, the overall goal of this organization is to provide a more positive view of CO2. Specifically, on the other hand, the site Rationalwiki.org offered a page on the topic. It listed two main goals. They are:
- That CO2 is not a pollutant
- More CO2 will benefit the world.
The goal, it appears, is based on the fact that plants need CO2 to convert them into food. In addition, they are pushing the concept that more of it is actually good for the ecosystem, and that there’s “no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant.”
Upon scrutiny, their tactics appear to be flawed. The mistakes are as follow:
- They’re trying to clump natural occurring CO2 with those created industrial byproducts and automobile exhausts;
- They don’t realize that plants need more than just CO2 to survive;
- More CO2 doesn’t mean it will make things better; and
- There is plenty of scientific evidence to support CO2 as being a culprit in global warming.
Speculation suggests that those behind CO2 is Green are well aware that the definition of a pollutant is complex and can be easily misunderstood by the public. They’ve used deception to get their propaganda out there to sway as many people to their side.
Bostrum states that claims made by sites such as CO2 is Green “fail to take into account that increasing the availability of one substance that plants need requires other supply changes for benefits to accrue.”
What the Evidence States About Excessive CO2?
Skeptical Science.com contributor Doug Bostrum, wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the myth perpetuated by CO2 Is Green/Plants Needs CO2. In it, he mentioned that under controlled conditions (such as greenhouses) extra CO2 helped boost growth among some plants. However, the key words – "controlled conditions" and "some" – doesn’t translate to the natural world.
Bostrum states that claims made by sites such as CO2 is Green “fail to take into account that increasing the availability of one substance that plants need requires other supply changes for benefits to accrue.” The supplies he refers to are increases in water, fertilizer and protection against insects to name a few things.
The increase of CO2 – Bostrum pointed out -- open a whole new set of problems which include:
- The extra water needed would have to be used to maintain growth and compensate for “greater moisture evaporation as heat increases.” This will be difficult due to continuing drying up of aquifers and decreased rainwater in some areas. Even excessive rain from intense storms will not help, considering that the diminished rate for the water to soak into the ground caused by it flooding into rivers and streams, which wash away much of the top soil and fertilizer.
- Fertilizing production will be greatly affected, and not just the naturally occurring ones. The manufacturing of artificial fertilizers will need to be increased to the point the ingredients needed to create them will be depleted. As a result, it may increase the price of food.
- It can cause a reduction of photosynthesis for certain plants. This includes the “nutritional quality of some staple” food such as wheat.
- Some plants may experience effects such as the “nitrogen plateau”
- It may change a plant’s chemistry, making them vulnerable to insects.
- CO2 will increase temperatures throughout the Earth, creating more deserts or increasing the existing ones while transporting other ecosystems such as tropical forests into region that may not be able to support them. Thus, shrinking the range that plants with particular ecosystems can grow.
In other studies, the increase in CO2 may reduce the health benefits of fruits. It is believed that more carbon would increase the sugar within the fruits, making them extremely sweet and potentially harmful to those with diabetes.
In addition, some plants – ones that are not beneficial to agriculture – will increase with the rise of CO2. Weeds thrive on CO2, meaning that home gardens and lawns in the suburbs will be inundated with them. Additionally, the intrusive plants will push out or kill other plant species.
CO2 is Green and its sister site, Plants Need CO2 are unique when compared to other climate change denial groups. They focus on one issue. Also, they tend to blend optimism of global warming with fear tactics pertaining to economics to get their message out to the public (“this will cost us jobs,” as they state will be the cause of keeping CO2 on the list of pollutants). However, like many of these groups, they use misinformation, bad science, the gullibility of like-minded deniers and the false narrative that “more of something is good.”
While CO2 in modest amounts benefits plants, the excessive amounts created by humans can have damaging effects in the atmosphere. Sites such as CO2 is Green/Plants Need CO2 only send the wrong message and place the world at danger through its misinformation campaigns.
An Example of CO2 is Green Ad Campaign
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Dean Traylor