Hot Air and C02

Climate Change, Commentary, Environment

Recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper labelled “the fight against climate change, perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.”

Calling the G-8 meeting “the perfect opportunity to develop a new universal consensus on how to prevent global warming,” the prime minister demonstrated that, when it comes to climate change, alarmists have won the public relations war inside Canada’s House of Commons.

This capitulation to political correctness didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it is the result of a decade-long, behind-the-scenes battle in Parliament in which sensible voices were squeezed out of the debate entirely. What is being said in the Commons about carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas of concern in most schemes to “stop climate change,” is now a national disgrace.

Taking their lead from David Suzuki, MPs continually blame this benign gas for causing global warming, some even referring to it as “pollution.” NDP MP Joe Comartin’s Oct. 24, 2002, assertion that “the reality is that carbon dioxide is part of smog” stood until recently as the most memorable CO2 gaffe in parliamentary history.

However, on Jan. 31, 2007, Liberal MP Sue Barnes challenged Comartin for the honour when she accused the prime minister of “misleading Canadians” when he wrote that “carbon dioxide… is a naturally occurring gas essential to the life cycles of the planet.”

Instead of defending Harper’s statement as correct, Environment Minister John Baird merely attacked the Liberals for not reducing CO2 emissions when they had the chance. Harper himself reinforced the notion that CO2 is pollution when he said in the same debate, “our carbon dioxide emissions are the worst (in the developed world), and so are our sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.”

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion followed up the next day, criticizing Harper for “…insisting that carbon dioxide was essential to life,” concluding “water is also essential to life, but that information is no relief to a man who is drowning.”

Clearly, most MPs have either completely forgotten their grade-school science, or hope most Canadians have.

As a refresher for politicians who apparently need it — not all do; some recognize that much of today’s rhetoric is absurd — here is what science actually says.

CO2 is not currently a major climate driver. Even if CO2 concentration doubles or triples, the effect on temperature would be minimal. The relationship between temperature and CO2 is like painting a window black to block sunlight. The first coat blocks most of the light. Second and third coats reduce little more.

Plants function best with CO2 between 1,000 and 1,200 parts per million (ppm), a level typically found in a crowded room. Greenhouses inject CO2 to reach these concentrations and achieve significantly higher yields as a result. This suggests that plants evolved to suit levels around 1,000 ppm and are CO2-starved at today’s 385 ppm. At 200 ppm plants begin to suffer and at 120 ppm they start to die.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Sherwood Idso calculated that the 33 per cent rise in CO2 in the atmosphere over the past 150 years has resulted in an increase in average world wheat yield of about 60 per cent. Higher CO2 levels enhance the health-promoting properties of food plants and decrease their water loss as the pores on leaves shrink and exhale less water, a characteristic important in drought-stricken regions.

But what about Dion’s assertion that we can effectively “drown” in CO2?

It is not until levels reach 15,000 ppm that humans experience serious health impacts. That is almost 4,000 per cent higher than current concentrations and more than double the highest CO2 level in the past half-billion years.

Seen in that light, Liberal MP Julian Reed’s Oct. 8, 2002, House of Commons statement may trump even Comartin and Barnes as the most uninformed ever by a parliamentarian about CO2:
“I would like to challenge any member of the opposition to … sit for an hour in a room filled with carbon dioxide. If they come out of it alive, I will give them a month’s salary. They know very well that if they are faced with high levels of carbon dioxide in the air, they will die.

“They will die because there is no oxygen in a room filled with CO2.”

Reed’s grandstanding is typical of what passes for debate among today’s politicians.

Echoing Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, Harper said last week that Canada is “devoted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stopping global warming.”

Rhetorically, we have come full circle. The Conservative approach is akin to hitting ourselves in the head with a two-by-four in contrast with Kyoto’s lead pipe, but the outcome is similar — billions of dollars will be wasted, the targets will not be met and the public’s trust in government will erode still further while real environmental problems remain improperly addressed.

Tim Ball, chairman of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project (, is a Victoria-based environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg.

Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and NRSP executive director. For the past nine years Mr. Harris has been working intensively with a growing team of independent scientists and engineers to promote a sensible approach to a range of energy and environmental issues. He has thirty years experience working as a mechanical engineer and project manager, science and technology communications professional and media and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic. Mr. Harris has Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Mechanical Engineering (thermo-fluids and energy focus).