Gas Exchange

a significant part of the population is willing to accept a glib soundbite as truth, in preference to a long catalogue of facts that happens to represent the truth

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., cofounder of the Weather Underground website, has an excellent blog post detailing what Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba considers to be an alarming development in the Global Warming Wars:

A television advertisement proclaiming that more atmospheric carbon dioxide is good for the Earth.

Really. They should have come up with this ad thirty-five years ago, so that Woody Allen could have worked it into his movie Sleeper. The one that proclaims french fries and hot fudge sundaes to be health foods, and tobacco smoking the best thing you can do for your lungs.

The movie, in case you haven’t seen it (it is ancient history for you twentysomethings out there), is a farce.

So’s that ad. Or it would be, if the matter it addresses weren’t so deadly serious.

Briefly (and Masters does, um, a masterful job of explaining the details), the ad’s premise is that carbon dioxide is essential for plant life, and therefore more carbon dioxide means more plant life. Which is such a good and wonderful thing that We the People should be pumping all the profits into the fossil fuel industry carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we can.

Only two problems with this scenario. The first (which Masters does not happen to mention) is that, if more carbon dioxide begets more plant life, then that ‘more plant life’ should suck up that extra carbon dioxide. Which should slow or stop the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. No such slowing has been observed. In fact, some scientists argue that humans have been dumping planet-changing levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution two hundred years ago, but since the dawn of agriculture, eight thousand years ago. And the plant life hasn’t caught up yet.

(This scenario, by the way, is consistent with the one that attributes most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and the ecological calamity that oxygen pollution amounted to in Earth’s early history, to a thin layer of pond scum.)

The second, which Masters does discuss, is that recent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have been responsible for measured decreases in plant crop yields.

Still more alarming than the existence of the ad itself is the catalogue of concealed interests and outright dirty tricks that is associated with the production of the ad and its predecessors, the peddling of this public relations exercise to the world, and its acceptance by many, including those at the highest level of government. Dissing the real findings of science, and the scientists (often via attacks on persons rather than data) that have published these findings.

But then, the scientists (including Masters) are easy to diss. Their reasoning is hard to follow, and their message is bleak: we cannot continue as we are, and we cannot change things without giving up large chunks of what we see as inalienable rights, such as freedom of consumption, freedom of property, freedom of reproduction. From the mass of scientists, no Kirk has arisen to pull our Kobayashi Maru out of this Neutral Zone of our own making – and if one were to appear, she probably wouldn’t be able to afford the public relations firm that could effectively promote her discovery.

That makes We the People – we who, most of us, have been trained since birth to limit our attention spans to the length of a television commercial – susceptible to the soundbite. To the glib, pretty, and above all short message that our Kobayashi Maru can and will be saved, if we will only do as the message tells us. Without any evidence that the message’s sponsor has a starship to effect the rescue, never mind one with a tractor beam, warp drive, and photon torpedoes.

And with, in fact, compelling evidence that the fossil fuels industry is using the tactics of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry, you’ll recall, used disinformation tactics to discredit scientific evidence that smoking and chewing are bad for you.

Maybe if we linked fossil fuels to smoking …

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. And in the past year with places all over the globe reporting record highs for their summers and record lows for their winters, how can people still believe things aren’t out of whack. I think “whack” is a great idea — upside the head — and the planet is going to do it.

    To paraphrase George Carlin: Save the planet? How could we be so pompous as to try to save the planet? The planet was here long before we were and it will be here long after we’re gone. We don’t need to save the planet. The planet will save itself by getting rid of the pestilence irritating it — US! What we need to work on saving is ourselves!

    • Q, on 4 July 1863, the Union army of Gen. U. S. Grant accepted the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, after a long siege. Soldiers, looking for way to feed a starving civilian population, broke into stores and warehouses – and brought out foodstuffs that merchants were holding back in anticipation of even higher prices. Such stories don’t do much to inspire confidence in the thought that humankind will act selflessly in times of strife. See Susan’s comment.

  2. I’ve been reading many interesting things on the double-edged sword that agriculture turned out to be for the human race; it makes for fascinating (if frightening) reading.

    The ‘inalienable rights’ thing has certainly sunk into some souls too deeply to extricate. Most people I know would gladly trade the future of the human race to safeguard their own immediate comforts…and when that’s the prevalent mindset, what hope is there?

    Now talk more Star Trek to me to help me forget all this…

    • I’m pretty sure agricultural is only a mixed blessing for about 1 million of the 6 billion of us. The intelligence needed to rationalize lying is a mixed blessing to many more.

      Hey, I just found out that one of my television stations shows a Star Trek episode every weekday!

      • I dunno, Dawg. If Jared Diamond is correct, and the primary driver for the development of agriculture was to mass-produce cannon fodder, the blessings of eating antiquity’s equivalent of junk food, and the propaganda required to sell the concept, amounts to pretty much of a mixture for everybody. Mind you, it is something of a stretch to imagine McDonald’s becoming a profitable global concern if the world had only the number of people in it (a few hundred thousand, maybe) that could be sustained by hunting and gathering.

  3. Linking fossil fuels to smoking…there was an article in the Washington Post this weekend about the peat bogs in Indonesia burning off and sending loads of … you got it … greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    So yeah, fossil fuels and literally smoking ground.

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