Can CO2 reduction policies be an apt proxy for universal, pollution reduction?

Global Warming theory may well be proven false.  But, it promotes Carbon Dioxide reduction and thus can be a useful proxy for our Green future?

The Global Warming debate is bit like a pantomime at times: “Oh, yes it is.  Oh, no it isn’t. Oh yes…”  What are we punters on the street then meant to believe?  In some ways, potentially, it doesn’t matter either way, true or not.  Irrespective of the effects of Carbon Dioxide on the Greenhouse Effect, isn’t CO2 reduction a great way to lead ourselves down a Green future.  CO2 is a pollutant and a by-product of many of our modern, industrial, polluting ways.  By cleaning up CO2 , surely are we not cleaning up are environment as a whole?  You price CO2 , you price all pollution – what a great, simple way to improve our fragile environment?

This argument, that CO2 is a useful proxy for industrial pollution, is pretty convincing, perhaps.  I have heard many people involved in the energy industry and the wider Green movement cite this as an ultimate justification for large-scale Emissions Trading Schemes (carbon taxes).  For example, in the words of the highly influential Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the NASA, who is also the lead writer at one of the foremost, pro-Global Warming, websites, RealClimate:

Gavin Schmidt “articulating both the science and the history of the science, and putting the recent politicizing of climate science into context.” from “A Well Deserved honour” at (full version)

So, people like Gavin Schmidt argue that, if we price Carbon Dioxide via an Emissions Trading Scheme, then we are pricing pretty much all types of industrial pollution in a “coherent holistic way”.  Back in the day, environmentalists fought individual battles.  “Historically we’ve dealt with environmental issues on a piecemeal basis, we’ve dealt with acid rain, we’ve dealt with dirty rivers, we’ve dealt with oil spills”.  However, now we have climate, predicting models to unify our understanding of the planet as a complete ecosystem.  Thus, we can use CO2 reduction regulation and taxation to encourage all forms of business to clean up their act.

That sounds fair enough, I guess.  Well, I do agree with Gavin in regards to his sentiment of encouraging pollution prevention measures.  I also don’t want dirty rivers full of micro pollutants such as the human, contraceptive hormone, oestrogen that is making our male fish hermaphrodites.  I also think all due care should be taken by oil companies to put a top priority on safety in their industry.   I also don’t want acid rain destroying our forests or historic buildings.  However, each of these measures and environmental concerns are quite different.  You can even say that they are even fully mutually exclusive.  Putting a “price on Carbon” will not prevent women’s hormone-laced urine from getting into the food chain.  High quality micro filters installed in sewage plants do.  Putting a price on CO2 will not stop the Exxon Valdez from hitting the rocks off Alaska, a little less “drink driving” (allegedly) by the captain might help though.  Putting a price on CO2 will not stop acid rain.  The modern filters used on coal, power station, exhaust stacks and the obligatory, car, catalytic converters do that already.  A question, did any of these pollution, mitigation initiatives ever require a Carbon Tax to happen?

The world has never been Greener.  Well, I should qualify this and say that the world has never been more green minded.  In the Middle Ages the ancient forests of Spain were largely cut down to build King Philip’s Spanish Armada used in a the failed conquest of England.  Did he care about the ecology of this? No, not too much, though admittedly environmental protection didn’t matter as much in those days as it does now.  The population of the Earth was much lower then and our ability to extract essential resources much more limited.  However, with the onset of the industrial revolution, our ability to extract and process our natural resources has exponentially increased.  This could be a recipe for environmental disaster and, indeed, we do have the occasional, Exxon Valdez style disaster.  However, put things into perspective.  The vast majority of our global corporations have an emphasis on being Green these days (these BP core values are common practice).  Green sells.  You see it being advertised everywhere.  Environmentalists do play an important role in policing the large, Green, marketing claims by corporations.  Every system needs it checks and balances.  However, be mindful that Big Business is already doing a reasonably good job at cleaning up its act.  This is because industry is “Going Green”, and all this is happening without a hugely inefficient, fully rortable “price on Carbon” (see the EU carbon scheme problems) .

A price on CO2 is not a proxy for universal, pollution reduction.  This is a common misconception.   This is like hitting a nail with a sledgehammer.  Emissions Trading Schemes are not only massively expensive, but also largely ineffective at producing anything other than minor CO2 emissions reductions.  Furthermore, as for cleaning up the acts of the vast gamut of industries that will be taxed under the scheme, it will make very little difference to their polluting status.  Every polluting, industrial process is different and its harmful by-products must be mitigated uniquely.  They are all different.  In addition, be very mindful that the world is actually pretty Green already.  We are becoming Greener and Greener every day without any massive governmental, tax-based intervention.  Sharks now swim again in the Sydney’s, now clean, iconic harbour, London’s horrendous smog‘s are a thing of the past, cars have “clean” emissions from catalytic converters.  None of these measures needed CO2 legislation.

Life has complexity, simplifying it to just blaming CO2 emissions is plain ludicrous.  Ironically enough, take away the controversial, Global Warming effect of CO2, and you’d quite easily argue that we should me making more CO2 on purpose.  CO2 is actually one of the most important plant and, thus food fertilisers, on Earth.  The more the merrier.


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One Response to Can CO2 reduction policies be an apt proxy for universal, pollution reduction?

  1. Jimbo says:

    An “Atmospheric Scientist” colleague of mine, who is not a “skeptic”, threw me a link just now.

    This pretty much sums it up the argument and belief system:

    by Joel Pett for USA Today

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