Carbon Dioxide: Hero or Villian?
Effects of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) on our bodies – CO2 is not a poison or a pollutant. It only kills by displacing oxygen, causing suffocation from lack of oxygen. Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen are both suffocants, not poisons. We need CO2 to build up in our blood (as a product of metabolism) to trigger our smother response and prompt our bodies to take a spontaneous breath. The reason Nitrogen (gas or liquid) is so dangerous to work with is because Nitrogen doesn’t trigger the smother response that tells us we are suffocating. CO2 continues to be expelled, but no oxygen is carried to the cells, so that unconsciousness and death come without warning.
Dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO) – On the other hand, Carbon Monoxide, CO, from incomplete combustion, is a poison. It permanently attaches to oxygen/ carbon dioxide receptors in red blood cells, so that less oxygen is carried to the cells and less CO2 is expelled. When enough red blood cells are compromised, unconsciousness and death follow. Full recovery only comes when the poisoned red blood cells are destroyed and replaced with new cells, which can take up to 120 days.
A less than lethal dose or chronic low level exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) results in flu like symptoms, headache, malaise, breathlessness, etc. These conditions may occur over time without our knowledge due to improperly ventilated hydrocarbon heaters or fireplaces and leaking or blocked chimney flues or leaking auto exhausts. I experienced this in an old house I was renting when the chimney collapsed inside my bedroom wall. I had flu like symptoms for several weeks before I realized what was happening.
Benefits of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – Plants need CO2 to make sugars by photosynthesis and to grow. Lower levels of CO2 result in stunted growth. Greenhouses often pump in extra CO2 to enhance growth. If the level in the atmosphere is reduced as much as the environmentalists advocate, crops and forests will suffer. Our slightly elevated level, at 400 ppm, up from 295 ppm seventy years ago, has had a beneficial greening effect on forests, crops, deserts, grasslands and oceans. Plants with elevated CO2 also lose less water due to reduced pore size so that they are more tolerant of dry conditions. Overall, the added CO2 in the atmosphere has increased crop yields and improved lives in poor countries.
What about Carbon Capture? – There is a lot of talk about carbon capture. By that they mean to capture CO2 from fossil fuel burning and force it underground for long term storage. No workable system has been developed yet. But if we could, is it practical or even safe? The problem with this scenario is that gases have a nasty habit of moving around and even erupting to kill wildlife and people. The truth is that unless that CO2 is permanently converted to carbonate rock or other solid form such as biomass, the stored gas can erupt and kill without warning. An infamous example is the Lake Nyos, Cameroon, disaster that suffocated and killed over 1700 people in 1986. Without warning the gas erupted from the bottom of the lake, blanketed the entire valley and smothered everyone and all the animals in its path. See Wikipedia article here for more details.
Assuming we would want to remove the man made CO2 from exhaust gases, other means of removing some of the CO2 include scrubbing with solvents in industrial settings, or recycling the CO2 through other chemical processes, or using it to enhance growth in greenhouses and using it to grow tanks of algae that can be harvested, dried and used as feed stock for burning in power plants, etc.
What about Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change? In an earlier post I explained the scientific reasons why Carbon Dioxide is not the driver of Climate Change, but is a trailing indicator of warming. See link below. Most of the warming due to Carbon Dioxide occurred in the distant past. Otherwise we would be a frozen planet. The atmosphere is at near-maximum absorption of heat by CO2. Any additional Carbon Dioxide will have very little effect. Water vapor, ocean currents and the sun are among the major drivers of global warming or cooling, none of which are well understood and can’t be controlled by man. As such, these other drivers are ignored by the environmentalists whose real goal is to impose socialist style control on us, while claiming to save us from climate change.
See post AGW Claims vs. Truth – 2. Carbon Dioxide and Warming