Tuesday Mar 27, 2007

Science Newsflash, temperature causes CO2 not vice-versa

I heard this fascinating science tidbit on NPR's Living on Earth program:

"It appears that temperature appears to drive CO2 and not vice versa." -- U.S. Senator James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma (former chairperson of the U.S. Senate committee on the environment)

I only had a few years of university Chemistry and only a B.S. in physics so I may have missed the chapter on carbon alchemy that great physics minds like Einstein, Hawkins and Inhofe are aware of. Actually in a way he is correct:

C + O2 + heat ---> CO2

(o.k. heat and temperature aren't the same thing but we'll pretend) In simpler terms:

Carbon (e.g. Coal) + Oxygen + heat ---> CO2(Carbon Dioxide)

Was Inhofe was correct all along? No. As Al Gore responded, "One scientist said it's a stronger consensus than on anything except perhaps gravity." A grade school student can prove that burning carbon creates carbon dioxide. Any university lab can demonstrate that an atmosphere with more carbon dioxide traps more heat than an atmosphere with less. I'm unaware of any dispute over the strong evidence that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen over the past century. There is also good evidence that average global temperature is rising. The only serious doubt is whether human contribution to CO2 is a significant factor in global climate. There may be arguments against human caused global warming (e.g. If any solid evidence of a warming trend is found on Mars) and there are arguments against the Kyoto treaty (e.g. Industries are encouraged to move towards exempt economies with already high coal usage.), but Inhofe represents a weird political paradigm where so-called conservatives are more interested in conserving their own mindset than they are in conserving the ecological balance of our planet.

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