A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Tis but thy name that is my enemy

Thank you William for bringing Juliet to life so she could speak such profound truth.  What difference does it make what a thing is called?  The smell is that of a rose, even if it is called rafflesia or perhaps eastern skunk cabbage.  Such errors in nomenclature do not alter the truth, a rose is still a rose.

We cringe, especially when the error comes from a person of influence or authority. If a distinguished botanist should name that rose a dandelion, we would surely roll our eyes, but we would set a child straight without a smidgen of acrimony. It is, after all, a teachable moment.

Why would a botanist call a rose a dandelion? Why would a chemist call carbon dioxide carbon? Why would a world leader call a vital component of our atmosphere a pollutant? The truth endures, words succumb. Consider the source and the motive.

Carbon is not the same as carbon dioxide, but today there are headlines in almost every major newspaper announcing that China and the United States have agreed to cut carbon emissions. In fact, very little carbon is emitted in the United States. On the other hand China does emit great quantities of carbon in the form of soot. The agreement has very little to do with soot. It is about carbon dioxide.

To a chemist or a biologist, referring to carbon dioxide as carbon or carbon pollution is crazy. Why don’t they call it oxygen?  Carbon dioxide molecules are mostly oxygen, about 73 percent. That surely would be confusing, but calling it carbon is just as illogical, if not as confusing. Is it deception? Do they believe we will more likely go along with their schemes, if they call it a dandelion?

Why do we call carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas when it has nothing to do with greenhouses or the greenhouse effect? A greenhouse heats because warming air cannot escape.  In the atmosphere, molecules of water, and to a much lesser extent carbon dioxide, absorb infra-red, converting molecular vibrations into increased translational motion which is what we call temperature.

Why do they call it carbon pollution? It is not carbon and it is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is a natural, even vital component of the atmosphere. Without it, plants would die and animals would soon thereafter starve to death.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in our environment is quite variable. On top of the Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa, air that has been collected, purified, and dried to remove all water vapor has an average carbon dioxide concentration of about 395 ppm, although this varies with the seasons. In an airplane cabin, the concentration may be above 1200 ppm, because of all the people breathing. Plant nursery owners pump carbon dioxide into their greenhouses to accelerate plant production. The atmosphere above the ice in Antarctica during the recent glacial period contained less than 200 ppm carbon dioxide. There are daily and seasonal cycles of carbon dioxide concentration in the air, as well as geographical influences. Plants and certain geochemical processes remove it from the atmosphere, animals and other geochemical processes add it back. The oceans of the world contain most of the world’s carbon dioxide and much of this originates from the oceanic crust and the mantle beneath it. Some of the carbon dioxide dissolved in the global oceans escapes into the atmosphere as the water is warmed by the sun and other forcings. Additional carbon dioxide in the oceans combines with calcium and other minerals to form carbonates.  Has anyone asked why we should try to manage the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere?  What concentration would you like?

So, please!  A rose is not a dandelion and carbon dioxide is neither carbon nor a pollutant. Stop trying to deceive us.

About DocStephens

Retired college professor of science and mathematics, academic administrator, and president (emeritus).
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Human Behavior, Media, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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