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Carbon Dioxide - Everyone's Favorite Pollutant

Posted on 5 October 2010 by dana1981

Before assessing whether or not CO2 is a pollutant, we must first define the term.

What is an Air Pollutant?

The US Clean Air Act was incorporated into the United States Code of Federal Regulations, Title 42, Chapter 85.  Its Title III, Section 7602(g) defines an air pollutant:

"The term “air pollutant” means any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive (including source material, special nuclear material, and byproduct material) substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air."

Clearly this is a very broad definition.  More importantly, its Title 1, Part A, Section 7408 states that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator must publish a list of certain air pollutants:

"emissions of which, in his judgment, cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare"

In Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (in 2007), the US Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Two years after the Supreme Court ruling, in 2009 the EPA issued an endangerment finding concluding that

"greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare....The major assessments by the U.S. Global Climate Research Program (USGCRP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the National Research Council (NRC) serve as the primary scientific basis supporting the Administrator’s endangerment finding."
Greenhouse gases including CO2 unquestionably fit the Clean Air Act's broad definition of "air pollutants," and must be listed and regulated by the EPA if it can be determined that they endanger public heath and/or welfare.
Alternatively, the definition of "pollution" from Encyclopedia Brittanica is:
"the addition of any substance (solid, liquid, or gas) or any form of energy (such as heat, sound, or radioactivity) to the environment at a rate faster than it can be dispersed, diluted, decomposed, recycled, or stored in some harmless form."
Thus legally in the USA, CO2 is an air pollutant which must be regulated if it may endanger publich health or welfare.  And according to the encyclopedic definition, CO2 is a pollutant unless our emissions can be stored "harmlessly."

Is Increasing CO2 Dangerous or Harmless?

Humans are Increasing Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations

Humans have increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 40% over the past 150 years, primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels.


Figure 1: CO2 levels (parts per million) over the past 10,000 years. Blue line from Taylor Dome ice cores (NOAA). Green line from Law Dome ice core (CDIAC). Red line from direct measurements at Mauna Loa, Hawaii (NOAA).

We know that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic from a number of lines of evidence.  Atmospheric oxygen is decreasing at approximately the same rate as the atmospheric CO2 increase, which tells us that the source of the change is from a release of carbon combining with atmospheric oxygen rather than a natural release of CO2.  We also know that the 30 billion tonnes of CO2 released by human activity must go somewhere, and in fact atmospheric CO2 is only increasing by about 16 billion tonnes per year (the rest is going into the oceans).  CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels or burning forests also has quite a different isotopic composition from CO2 in the atmosphere, because plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes (12C vs. 13C); thus they have lower 13C/12C ratios.  And indeed we've observed this ratio decline in the atmosphere.


Figure 2: Atmospheric 13C ratio as measured at Mauna Loa (CDIAC)

The Increasing CO2 is Causing Global Warming

Thus we know that human emissions are increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which as a greenhouse gas, in turn increases the greenhouse effect.  This increases the amount of energy (in the form of longwave infrared radiation) reaching the Earth's surface.  We've observed this increase through spectroscopy, which measures changes in the electromagnetic spectrum.  Climate scientists have also quantified the amount of warming we expect to see from the energy imbalance caused by this increased downward radiation, and it matches well with observations.  Given the amount of CO2 humans have added to the atmosphere already, once the planet reaches a new equilibrium state, it will have warmed approximately 1.4°C from pre-industrial levels.  Additionally, we have observed numerous key 'fingerprints' of anthropogenic global warming which confirm that the warming we've experienced is due to an increased greenhouse effect.

How Much Warming is Dangerous?

There are some positive effects of global warming from increased CO2 emissions.  For example, improved agriculture at high latitudes and increased vegetation growth in some circumstances. However, the negatives will far outweigh the positives.  Coast-bound communities are threatened by rising sea levels. Melting glaciers threaten the water supplies of hundreds of millions.  Species are  already becoming extinct at a rate 100 to 1000 times higher than the “background” rate of long spans of geological time, partially due to the effects of global warming and climate change.  

Quantifying exactly at what point global warming will become dangerous is a difficult task.  However, based on the research and recommendations of climate scientists, more than 100 countries have adopted a global warming limit of 2°C or below (relative to pre-industrial levels) as a guiding principle for mitigation efforts to reduce climate change risks, impacts, and damages.  This 2°C warming level is considered the "danger limit". During the last interglacial period when the average global temperature was approximately 2°C hotter than today, sea levels were 6.6 to 9.4 meters higher than current sea levels. Large parts of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melted, with the southern part of Greenland having little or no ice.

As discussed above, the CO2 we've already emitted has committed us to about 1.4°C warming above pre-industrial levels.  Given a climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 of 2-4.5°C and the fact that on our current path we're headed for a CO2 doubling by mid-to-late 21st century, we're fast-approaching the danger limit.

How Soon Will we Reach Dangerous Warming?

Meinshausen et al. (2009) found that if we limit cumulative CO2 emissions from 2000-2050 to 1,000 Gt (approximately an 80% cut in global emissions), there is a 25% probability of warming exceeding the 2°C limit, and 1,440 Gt CO2 over that period (an 80% cut in developed country emissions) yields a 50% chance of 2°C warming by the year 2100.  If we maintain current emissions levels, there is an approximately 67% chance that we will exceed 2°C warming by 2100.

Figure 3: Probability of exceeding 2°C warming by 2100 in various emissions scenarios in gigatonnes of carbon (RealClimate)

In short, to avoid the amount of global warming which is considered dangerous based on our understanding of the climate and empirical evidence, we need to achieve major reductions in global CO2 emissions in the next 40 years.   Thus it becomes quite clear that not only is CO2 a pollutant, but it also poses a risk to public health and welfare.

Ocean Acidification

Another impact of increasing atmospheric CO2 emissions is ocean acidification.  When CO2 dissolves in seawater, it increases the hydrogen ion concentration though the chemical reaction CO2 + CO32- + H2O 2HCO3-, thus decreasing the pH of the oceans (NOAA 2008).  Among other impacts, this decreasing oceanic pH has a damaging effect on corals, which form the habitat of approximately 25% of marine species (Karleskint et al. 2009).  A seminal study co-authored by 17 marine scientists (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007) found:

"Many experimental studies have shown that a doubling of pre-industrial [CO2]atm to 560 ppm decreases coral calcification and growth by up to 40% through the inhibition of aragonite formation (the principal crystalline form of calcium carbonate deposited in coral skeletons) as carbonate-ion concentrations decrease"

Thus not only does anthropogenic CO2 act as a dangerous pollutant due to its impacts on global warming and climate change, but it also has a major effect on marine ecosystems through ocean acidification.

CO2 is a Pollutant

When considering the legal definition of "air pollutants" and body of scientific evidence, it becomes clear that CO2 meets the definition and poses a significant threat to public health and welfare.

This post is the Advanced version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "CO2 is not a pollutant".

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 201:

  1. Doug, I agree on all points. I was already working on finding a couple of reference links in addition to Dana's; so, for anyone interested, here here is a primer, and here is a more comprehensive (and technical) review article. The review article and Dana's links will have a lot of overlap, but I thought the 8-point summary in it would be a nice-to-have.
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  2. An additional comparison between ozone and CO2 is that the deniers of the ozone problem said it would be impossible/very costly to replace freon. We would have no refrigeration, air conditioning etc. Of course they were wrong. Now the same crew says it is to expensive to fix CO2 pollution. Both problems require global action to resolve. The actions taken to fix ozone give me hope that we can deal with CO2.
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  3. JMurphy @ 88 If you like direct marketing, to each his own. However, producing and distributing the stuff inevitably carries a significant carbon footprint - fuel to power the machinery to chop down the trees, to generate electricity to power the mill, the printing presses, to transport the paper, etc. Of course, most Western democracies enshrine the right to propagate direct marketing under the right of freedom of speech. I guess you're right - it does generate income though I question whether it's value for money. By contrast, those who market tobacco claim that they do so only to promote brand discrimination, not to generate sales, whilst seeking refuge under freedom of speech. So I give you credit for consistency and for backing up your argument.
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  4. KR #98 That is the most perceptive remark on this thread. The fact that ozone in one place is "pollution" (i.e., harmful), and in another not only beneficial, but pretty much vital to life on Earth. To what degree this is actually true for CO2 is literally "up in the air". :) As with freon, the next question, is the EPA going to ban Coca-Cola?
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  5. RSVP, It is distracting when you make comments like "is the EPA going to ban Coca-Cola?" Of course the EPA is not going to ban food. The EPA is concerned with large emissions of fossil carbon. Please limit your comments to real concerns if you want to be taken seriously.
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  6. As an analogy for C02, what about dietary iron? Without it we get anemia; but iron toxicity is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in children under 5. So I put the iron drops in my baby's juice every morning, and make sure they're out of his reach at all times. Just like C02, a little is essential but a lot is deadly.
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  7. Yeah, that's a good analogy, katecell. Likewise, fluoride in toothpaste (protects your enamel in small quantities, toxic enough to harm a child who ate a whole tube...) I still like my phosphorus in fertilizer vs water pollution analogy, though, because (as with CO2) it focuses on the environmental impact rather than the health effects (of course too much CO2 can kill you, but that's not the issue here). Like CO2, phosphorus is necessary for plant health and growth. Like CO2, introducing too much phosphorus into the environment will lead to negative environmental impacts. The proper response is not to ban the offending substance (carbon or phosphorus) nor to keep mindlessly dumping it into the environment in unlimited quantities. The proper response is to use it sparingly where appropriate and valuable, in a sustainable and judicious manner.
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  8. michael sweet #105 "Please limit your comments to real concerns if you want to be taken seriously. " What makes you so sure about where the law will end up drawing the line? Let's hope my comment is just a joke. On the otherhand, the categorization of CO2 as a pollutant is also hard to take serious, and yet it has gained this status. Prohibition in the US lasted 13 years until they realized they had made a mistake. Fortunately, the truth ultimately prevails.
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  9. RSVP, why not cut to the chase now and let truth prevail straight away? Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act (PDF) (52 pp, 308K) Technical Support Document for the Findings (PDF) (210 pp, 2.5MB) It's extremely, vanishingly unlikely that you know better, but if you don't bother reading this stuff you'll never find out, will you? Certainly you won't persuade anybody with silly allusions to prohibition and soft drinks, but failing having any specific facts at your fingertips, that's all you've got.
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  10. RSVP: What makes you so sure about where the law will end up drawing the line? Let's hope my comment is just a joke. Michael Sweet explained why your comment was silly. Saying "Hey, it could happen!" simply compounds the silliness. First, no one's talking about "banning" CO2; this is a typical denialist strawman. Second, if anyone were going to ban Coca-Cola, it would probably be the FDA, not the EPA. Third, as our modern experience with cigarettes and tetraethyl lead and CO2 shows, it's actually pretty difficult to impose regulations like these. You generally need to have lengthy public debates, and huge amounts of sound science on your side, to get anywhere at all. Comparing the regulation of CO2 to Prohibition is an interesting new rhetorical angle, but it's equally asinine. The classification of CO2 as a pollutant is based on decades of scientific data. By contrast, Prohibition was based largely on Protestant religious dogma and opportunistic jingoism, and passed largely thanks to the efforts of politically connected (and generally conservative/rural) pressure groups with a talent for public relations. I don't actually think we can draw any lesson from Prohibition in regards to the AGW debate, but if we could, I think it'd be pretty much the opposite of the one you're offering.
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  11. @RSVP: "On the otherhand, the categorization of CO2 as a pollutant is also hard to take serious" Not really, as excess CO2 represents a serious threat to our civilization. It is therefore quite legitimate to classify it as a pollutant.
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  12. Why talk Coke, RSVP, when we can talk coal? The human world doesn't seem to be spinning in the direction you think it is. It seems more likely that, at least for the U.S., a Repub/Tea Party-oriented Congress will relax or remove law designed to regulate CO2.
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  13. #110: "You generally need to have lengthy public debates, and huge amounts of sound science on your side, to get anywhere at all." Apparently that process actually works in some places. Canada: In draft regulations introduced several months ago, Environment Canada estimated that the targets would result in new vehicles in 2016 producing 25 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than those sold in 2008. Europe: the legislation on CO2 from passenger cars is now officially published in the form of Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles. And even locally in the US: New Jersey helped mark a milestone in climate-change policy in 2008 with the launch of a 10-state program to control carbon dioxide emissions from power producers. And then there's the other side: The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing climate-change regulations under the Clean Air Act ... But it’s not even clear why such controls are needed, given questions about the validity of the scientific case for blaming global warming on fossil-fuel emissions.
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  14. RSVP, The US Supreme court, with a strong majority of conservative justices, ruled that the science is overwhelming and CO2 is a pollutant. If you want to be taken seriously you need to document your objections to the supreme court ruling. Your argument of "I don't think so" is a waste of space. If you cannot document your objections with facts you need to take your anger over to WUWT where they will agree with you. You have spent too much time on this web site to blithely deny the hazards of uncontrolled temperature increase.
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  15. michael sweet #114 It doesnt take facts; just common sense. Labelling CO2 as a pollutant is absurd. Maybe you can explain why refined petrolium products or coal havent received this qualification right from the get go. This would leave all kind of legal space for the combustion of renewable carbon sources, not to mention the peace of mind to breath with a clear conscience.
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  16. RSVP, don't you consider the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill pollution? And what about oil-derived fertilizers flowing in the oceans? Oil, fertilizers, CO2 and whatever, are pollutants if they're in the "wrong" place in sufficient quantities.
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  17. RSVP wrote : "It doesnt take facts; just common sense. Labelling CO2 as a pollutant is absurd. Maybe you can explain why refined petrolium products or coal havent received this qualification right from the get go." So, you're saying that because coal wasn't labelled as a pollutant hundreds of years ago (before the US Supreme Court existed), and because refined petroleum products weren't labelled as pollutants at least a hundred years ago, therefore we can't label anything connected with it as a pollutant now ? Surely not. Perhaps we should still be allowed to disperse raw sewage into rivers, because it wasn't labelled as a pollutant hundreds of years ago ?
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  18. RSVP #115: In other news, Cigarettes are good for you: Hmm, or maybe it's just that brand ;) Presumably you're posting such ridiculous arguments to expose the stupidity of the so-called sceptic position?
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  19. t doesnt take facts; just common sense. Labelling CO2 as a pollutant is absurd. That's funny! One of GOP political consultant Luntz's suggestions in his advice on how to delay creating regulations suggested by scientific findings is to invoke "common sense." RSVP's referral is coincidence, I'm honestly sure, but amusing all the same. Meanwhile, even though RSVP's been provided w/links straight to EPA's finding and support information, notice how RSVP still can only say "it's absurd" without actually saying why. "I doubt it" is not an argument.
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  20. RSVP #115: "It doesnt take facts; just common sense." I think I'll go with the facts any way. One man's 'common sense' is another man's 'sheer lunacy'.
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  21. RSVP - You might want to review the "Common Sense" fallacy. It is, unfortunately, rather common... Too much CO2 is now known to cause a number of harmful consequences, albeit with the exact scale of warming (climate sensitivity) not as well established as we would like. It's entirely reasonable to call that a pollutant.
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  22. RSVP: Many people feel it is common sense to consider the facts of the matter when making a decision. Your suggestion that the Supreme Court would rule against common sense in this case is nonsense. Pick up your pace and read the background information. It is depressing to have people like Doug Bostrom spend so many of their valuable comments replying to uninformed blather, when they could be raising our knowledge level. Remember, people on this site spent over 200 posts trying (unsuccessfully) to help you understand waste heat. Pass on the favor by reading on your own to be more informed.
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  23. michael sweet writes: Remember, people on this site spent over 200 posts trying (unsuccessfully) to help you understand waste heat. Please don't remind us all about that. I'm still angry about that episode. I can't say what I really think about those two threads (one, two) without blowing the comments policy to smithereens. Let's just say that my opinions of the entire "skeptic" community on this website were strongly influenced by that thread. I suppose in one sense that's not fair. But that thread seriously made me question whether there's any value whatsoever in trying to engage in reasoned discussion with "skeptics" on this site. I would probably feel quite a bit differently if Sensible Skeptic A and Sensible Skeptic B and Sensible Skeptic C had stepped forward in that thread and tried to help out. Didn't happen, though. Yes, I am bitter. Sorry.
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  24. I've found that when people form incorrect conclusions and you ask them what they are based on, one of the most common answers is "common sense." Personally I think it's common sense that CO2 is obviously a pollutant. But then again, I've put in the time to learn some basic climate science. Common sense, when based on ignorance, is usually wrong.
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  25. Re: Ned (123) "Waste Heat" thread(s) Glad I kept my nose out of that one. :) I have 2 basic responses to skeptics; which response I use depends upon the approach taken by the skeptic: 1. The skeptic posts a thoughtful, well-reasoned and intelligent question or observation. I respond with as helpful a reply as is possible (I once spent a half-day looking up an answer for someone). Makes me happy to help. 2. The skeptic, clearly suffering from a terminal bout of Dunning-Kruger Disease, leaps into a thread post with an unsupported, non-factual opinion (usually based on "common sense" or what the animal entrails look like, etc.) and says the science is wrong "because". Curbing my natural inclination to flame (or at least track down & throttle) them, I compose 2 or 3 replies, all incendiary, before settling on something acerbic that may or may not pass moderation. I then go have 2 or 3 beers to blow off steam (or repeat as necessary). Re: dana 1981 (124)
    "Personally I think it's common sense that CO2 is obviously a pollutant. But then again, I've put in the time to learn some basic climate science. Common sense, when based on ignorance, is usually wrong. "
    Well said, sir. Well-said. The Yooper
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  26. RSVP #|15 "Maybe you can explain why refined petrolium products or coal havent received this qualification " Maybe you cant, or simply didnt understand the question. I was asking why not label petro and coal biproducts pollutants rather than go after CO2? Or is this part of the CO2 sequestering business agenda?
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  27. I was asking why not label petro and coal biproducts pollutants rather than go after CO2? What's the byproduct of industrial application of petroleum and coal we're speaking of here? Are internal combustion engines designed to produce C02? Is the objective of a coal fired generation plant to produce C02, with the grid and load simply a big resistor to get rid of the pesky energy byproduct? This is beginning to resemble one of those Oliver Sacks situations, a weird inability to perceive some particular thing.
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  28. RSVP: I have seen no scientific arguments that we should ban gasoline, or even coal, if they figure out a way to keep the CO2 (and other pollutants) out of the air. I think carbon sequestration is unlikely to be economic for coal use, but if it is more power to them. Your argument is absurd on its face- look at it being compared to cigarettes. You need to rethink what you are trying to achieve. Your claim, on a scientific blog, "It doesn't take facts; just common sense" makes you appear a fool. Changing to "why don't we label coal a pollutant" is no better. We all remember your previous similar arguments and your lack of understanding of the basic science. If you want to convince anyone to consider your arguments they need to be fact based to succeed on this blog. Perhaps if you understood the science you would change your opinion. The information you need is on this site if you choose to read it.
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  29. michael sweet #128 Why are you straying from the question and attempting to obfuscate things I say. The comment is rhetorical and only finds its context in the idea that CO2 (a basic ingredient to the life cycle on Earth) be considered a pollutant. It is not a suggestion, just a question that I will repeat one more time...that is, before going after CO2, why not first target the processes that are creating unwanted amounts of CO2 such as combustion of petrolium and coal? The difficulty with the question is that it reveals the underlying weakness in this movement. Put another way, labeling CO2 as a pollutant is basically a form of lip service or appeasement in light of the current hysteria.
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  30. RSVP, this is really quite simple. CO2 is the source of the problem (along with other greenhouse gases). Thus CO2 is what needs to be targeted. Coal and petroleum aren't the only sources of CO2. Some other major sources are cement production, agriculture, landfills, etc. Your conclusion that labeling CO2 as a pollutant is "lip service...in light of the current hysteria" is completely absurd and wholly unsupported by everything you've said. Your argument still consists of "I don't like it, therefore it's wrong."
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  31. RSVP, You keep changing your argument. see ricarrdo for the answer you want now. If I put 15 grams of fertilizer, a basic ingredient to the life cycle of plants, on my garden, that is food for the plants. If 15,000 tons of fertilizer washes into the ocean that is pollution. There are many pollutants that are natural products like CO2. Scientists propose going after CO2 by regulating processes that release CO2 like burning coal and oil. How else could you regulate CO2? Natural CO2 like animals release is not what would be regulated. You are the only one who suggested regulating natural products. The difficulty is you are not clear in your argument and you keep changing your emphasis. This is becasue what you say is not logical. Since you have trouble being understood when you are retorical I suggest you try to stay on the point.
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  32. ...before going after CO2, why not first target the processes that are creating unwanted amounts of CO2 such as combustion of petrolium and coal? How exactly do we "target" these processes without identifying why we'd be doing so? Ignoring the very reason why we'd make changes in processes obviously leaves the question of rationale hanging in the air. Coal-fired generation plants liberate C02 as part of their operation, emissions which have been found detrimental to the continued desirable functionality of the atmosphere. Failing acknowledging the C02 itself, there's no reason to add expense and reduce efficiency of coal-fired generation plants. Short of a rationale, nobody is going to tamper with the economics of coal-fired generation plants. Once a rationale has been established and acknowledged, the operators of coal-fired plants are not going to act unless compelled by regulation. The comment is rhetorical... Yes, I think we're clear on the rhetoric part, considering that's all that's on offer.
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  33. A simple experiment to see the effect of CO2 in high concentrations is to put dry ice in a box and take a quick breath of the result. CO2 dissolved in water creates an acid, which in the oceans is already is having a detrimental effect on animals which use calcium in their shells or exoskeleton. Larger concentrations will create serious problems in the fish population. I believe this meets the definition of a pollutant. It is fairly simple to calculate the amount of CO2 created by burning fossil fuels, and how this correlates to the mass of the recent increase of CO2 in the air. It is clear that the burning of fossil fuels creates sufficient CO2 so that the oceans must be absorbing a good portion. This is large enough to account for the measured increase in the acidification of the oceans.
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  34. I do not think it a good idea to put the basis of "danger limit" on the knowledge of the last interglacial period. I have written some more as a comment (currently number 49) to the previous article "What constitutes 'safe' global warming?".
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  35. micheal sweet #131 "I suggest you try to stay on the point." The discussion is whether CO2 is pollution or not. On one hand of the discussion, you have those that are saying it is clearly, seriously, obviously pollution; and on the other, a natural and skeptical questioning of this idea given the fact that CO2 forms a part of our natural environment. You make a good point about how the difference in the quantity of fertilizer can be a good or a bad thing, however following this logic the could be said of water and therefore lead one to then ask whether water should'nt be considered "pollution"? If so, then CO2 also, but if not, I think there is some room here to question this decision and also consider an alternative that deals more directly to the undesired sources of CO2.
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  36. @RSVP: we already have a word for "too much water", it is called flooding.
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  37. A person can die from having less than 1% of their body weight in water in the wrong place. A pint of water in the lungs is called drowning.
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  38. #136, #137 Words influence perception, and this ultimately affects social action. For this reason, terminology can make a difference. As I dine, I will henceforth muse how my soft drink is "polluted" with CO2.
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  39. RSVP, while you're eating, try not to worry about any fillings you might have that are 'polluted' with mercury, or that any fish you might be eating might be 'polluted' by lead from fishing-tackle.
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  40. If anyone is interested in how real pollution looks like, watch this: In an industrial disaster 700,000 m3 of highly alkaline (pH 13, powerful lye) heavy metal laden red mud (waste product of aluminum manufacturing) flooded several towns, rivers and the countryside, seven killed, hundreds injured with next to lethal burns. Takes a year to clean up, for plant life if ever, several decades to recover, townships destroyed can never be rebuilt at the same place. Liability insurance of the company responsible for it covers $50,000 in damages, its capital is also negligible compared to losses and expenses in life, health and property (up to a hundred million dollars). Therefore it will be payed for by taxpayers' money, what else? As soon as the stuff dries up, it turns into wind-blown fine powder, difficult not to inhale. The problem with calling CO2 a pollutant just like any immediately dangerous stuff is it makes impossible to enact compulsory liability insurance policies covering all possible damages for corporations trading in potential pollutants. This is why blurring the legal notion of "pollutant" by including harmless substances by sweeping generalizations is prime interest of corporate lobby groups. Here, in Hungary we have 50,000,000 tons more of this mud stored in aging repositories, declared safe for the time being, nevertheless property prices in those areas are plummeting like stone. Relief donations can be sent to: National Saving Bank, Budapest IBAN: HU7511702036-20707637-00000000 SWIFT: OTPVHUHB
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  41. Even water can be a pollutant, although that is not usually the term used for water. My next door neighbor has a dam that causes flooding on my property-it is pollution to me. The government has rules controlling how this water can be discharged, unfortunately for me I have to clean up their mess. Where I live in Florida there are constantly problems between neighbors caused by water diverted from one property to flood another- pollution is a suitable term for these problems. Because water is easy to clean up we don't worry about long term consequences like we do for CO2. The disaster in Hungary is terrible, but the floods in Pakistan, likely caused at least partly if not completely by AGW have killed many more people. The defination of pollution has not been blurred by this action. Pollutants were defined by the act decades ago and now business and deniers want to change the defination of pollutants so that CO2 is not included. The court ruled that that is illegal. Tetraethyl lead was not immediately toxic, it was the long term accumulation and exposure that was bad. Freon also caused no measured problems at the time it was banned.
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  42. Weeds are perfectly ordinary plants in the 'wrong' place. Noxious weeds are those in the wrong place whose vigour threatens an environment or a crop. There are good reasons for authorities to ban or control them. (There's a similar argument about vermin and other pest animal species.) Pollutants are substances in the wrong place and /or the wrong quantity. (Flooding other than normal predictable water flows for the area is in the same category.) Authorities have good reason to insist on proper drainage arrangements for their own and for private property. They also have good reason to regulate all sorts of things from tanneries to chemical factories to private incinerators - write your own list. Very few of the things that need regulating, controlling or eradicating are "unnatural" or inherently poisonous. They're the simple consequence of human activity. Careless or thoughtless activities like those that introduce vermin or weeds or overflows to an area. Others involve lack of foresight or knowledge when undertaking actions like introducing cane toads to Australia or choosing to expand coal fired power technology around the world when other options were available. Regulation, control or eradication are all appropriate responses when the dangers are known.
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  43. Berenyi Peter (#140), Your countrymen are experiencing real pollution and you have the sympathy of people all around the world. It is hard to understand the extent of such problems but I suspect it will be more severe than Chernobyl but less horrible than Bhopal. Our problems with the Gulf oil spill are probably tiny by comparison. Of course I will send some money to that link you provided; I wish I could afford more.
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  44. BP #140 I agree the mining disaster in Hungary is terrible (and I have Hungarian connections in my family). However pollution can manifest itself in different ways, in much the same way that the disease process can be acute or chronic.
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  45. #143 gallopingcamel at 16:09 PM on 11 October, 2010 I will send some money to that link you provided Thank you. All be aware there is an ongoing scam operation to divert donations using fake websites like http://www.Voroskereszt.Com http://www.HungarianRedcross.Com http://www.MagyarVoroskereszt.Com http://hungarianradio.com There may be others. Always double check sites like these before using them. It is hard to understand the extent of such problems but I suspect it will be more severe than Chernobyl but less horrible than Bhopal. Fortunately the scale is much smaller than Chernobyl and the stuff released is also more manageable (even if its sheer volume is enormous). Neither is it nearly as lethal as dioxin pollution at Bhopal. Still, it is bad enough. However, at least the Danube appears to be saved at the moment due to heroic efforts to neutralize pH of sludge. We will also see to what extent and how fast Mother Nature is able to mitigate the effects by turning Sodium Hydroxide in sludge to baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) using atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Heavy metal contents of the stuff is controversial. Government experts say it is hardly above environmental levels while Greenpeace claims it is extremely toxic. I think the problem may be some of the metals are bound in water soluble complexes now as opposed to their original insoluble state in source rocks. I still think treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant in a legal context is a silly move. At the philosophical level one can rearrange concepts any way one likes, but the legal battleground is an entirely different matter. Neither the liability insurance business nor the judical system can cope with emissions where you can't trace down causal links from those responsible for it to actual persons suffering damage using plain common sense or standard expertise. Therefore if actual pollutants, where this procedure is supposed to be straightforward get mixed up with other stuff in legalese, you get laws that are impossible to implement, opening up one of the richest sources of lawlessness this way.
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  46. @BP, GC: it's not very classy to try and recuperate the Hungarian tragedy as an argument against considering CO2 a pollutant. Excess CO2 is harmful to all, so considering a pollutant is spot on.
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  47. BP, Where is the causal link between lead in gasoline and a specific injury to children? tThere is lead in the environment and also in paint. When scientists learned how dangerous lead is it was banned for all uses. Now, 40 years later, people are not getting exposed to lead like they were. Oil companies claimed it would make gasoline much more expensive, but they were wrong. It is the same with CO2. BP and RSVP, your claim that CO2 is "different" is ignoring the facts about previous pollutants that were controlled. If you ignore enough facts you can support any argument you like.
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  48. BP, Are you claiming that no gases should be considered pollutants?
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  49. I have a quibble with an ambiguity in the original blog posting here, which has partly contributed to some of the useless bickering that has followed. The definition of "air pollutant" specified in the original blog refers to atmospheric emissions. This does not describe the CO2 dissolved in bottle of Kőbányai Világos lager, but the anthropogenic CO2 being emitted from smoke stacks and automobile exhaust pipes. This is CO2 that is being added to the atmosphere (in massive quantities, I might add) by oxidation (i.e. combustion) of carbon in fossil fuels. Reference to CO2 in any other context is a 'red herring'. The original post above concludes:
    "CO2 is a Pollutant When considering the legal definition of "air pollutants" and [the] body of scientific evidence, it becomes clear that CO2 meets the definition and poses a significant threat to public health and welfare."
    To be precise, this statement should have specified "anthropogenic CO2". The referenced definition for air pollutant is a factual statement of the language in the Clean Air Act, and under this definition, anthropogenic CO2 unambiguously qualifies as a pollutant. BP and others have contributed their own personal definitions of pollutant, where CO2 does not qualify. With due respect, these arguments are circular (in that they presume the conclusion), and irrelevant. More significantly, they ignore the scientific evidence regarding the global impact of anthropogenic CO2 on climate, and by extension, on global ecosystems, which has at least the potential to exceed the effects of any natural disaster, aside from an extremely large meteorite impact. Just because the effects of anthropogenic CO2 will occur over the course of decades, does not mean they are not real.
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  50. #149: "under this definition, anthropogenic CO2 unambiguously qualifies as a pollutant." CG, Brilliant statement, concise and to the point. The EPA's Technical Support Document (warning, big pdf) makes the case in detail: CO2 is a long-lived (or well mixed) GHG, atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased due to anthropogenic emissions, other gases classified as such are already accepted as pollutants; thus anthropogenic CO2 is a pollutant.
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