Freedom to Report Real News
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Energy, Oxygen and CO2
Let’s All Take a Breath

By Michael R. Fox Ph.D., 4/21/2007 2:48:13 AM

Many people are asking about the details of energy production, pollution, global warming, and environmentalism. Confusion still reigns supreme in Hollywood, the Main Stream Media (MSM), and environmental organizations, and is more often dispensed in gigabyte quantities by people who have never seen a science book. The public is misled, deceived, and frightened by these industries that learned a long time ago that frightened people will buy more newspapers, news magazines, and watch more movies and “documentaries”. A frightened citizenry in turn makes for dangerous, uninformed, and costly public policy and wasteful fear-driven regulations.

The current scare story, the latest in the continuing 40 year series of such stories, is global warming. For some, it is an unfortunate war against fossil fuels which includes the 52% of the nation’s electricity that is produced from the burning of coal, as well as lesser amounts of natural gas, and oil. Others view it as a continuing the attack on the American economy, by attacks on its energy systems. Maurice Strong and others have told us as much:

"Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialised civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?" -- Maurice Strong, head of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and Executive Officer for Reform in the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations. [The Environmentalists' Little Green Book, ISBN 0-615-11628-0]

With statements like this, members of the public, almost desperate for better information, are asking for the details of fossil fuel burning and the impacts on climate and the related production of CO2. The following provides much more context of the global CO2 situation.

First consider the global prevalence of CO2 and its significance. CO2 is essential for all plant life on the planet, including the entire agricultural industry. It is not a pollutant, regardless of the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the well-known process of photosynthesis performed by most plants, CO2 is combined with water to produce oxygen and cellulose. The process is actually much more complicated but certainly CO2 is an essential ingredient for this life giving process. That the process globally also generates billions of tons of oxygen (O2) for the atmosphere, and for us to breathe, the importance of photosynthesis to life on earth and the requisite CO2 cannot be overstated.

The media have convinced many that CO2 is a pollutant, which it is not. Their line of reasoning is that man-made CO2 is causing global warming. This effect is relatively small and is based upon questionable CO2 measurements from ancient ice cores. There are a number of other natural climate forcing functions, such as the sun, clouds, and aerosols, all of which have unknown and unquantified potentials for warming.

Then there are several key gases which combine to be called greenhouse gases (GHG). About 97% of the greenhouse gas inventory is water vapor. Given that 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, we shouldn’t be surprised. The next most prevalent GHG is CO2 which is about 1.9% of the total. There are lesser amounts of methane, and others making up the rest. The CO2 fraction is only 1.9% of the total. However, the man-made fraction of the total CO2 is even smaller, less than 3% of that 1.9%, or 0.06%.

Thus, another problem arises for the “global warmers”. They are left to explain why the tiny manmade fraction of CO2 is a warming problem but the much larger fraction of CO2 from natural sources is not, since the CO2 from both natural and manmade sources are chemically identical.

In spite of all the confusion about atmospheric CO2 it is still poorly understood: How much is man-made, how much is natural, and exactly where does the natural CO2 come from.

There are many sources of global CO2, including exchanges with ocean water, which are known to have huge capacities for both absorption and release of CO2. The capacity of the oceans to absorb atmospheric CO2 is enormous and has been ongoing for millions of years. (

There are many more climate uncertainties including the methods by which scientists have actually been measuring atmospheric CO2. The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) limits its CO2 considerations to readings taken on top of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa and ice core readings. In addition the ice core values of CO2 are likely incorrect because of analyses problems. (

Furthermore, more CO2 uncertainties stem from too few measurements being made over the land masses, where far different scenarios are apparent. As reported in Science Magazine October 16, 1998 atmospheric CO2 actually declines as air masses move from West to East. This suggests that CO2 is being removed (by photosynthesis, changes in land use, etc.) faster than it is being generated by cars and fossil fuels plants. This is a very interesting bit of research, and doesn’t fit the warming dogma. But for the IPCC to systematically ignore such measurements is not good science.

Likewise there are major problems in determining the temperature history too as we learned from the IPCC “Hockeystick” fraud (

Other people are asking about the negative aspects of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels all produce CO2, water vapor, and NOx (which is formed when the air (80% of which is N2) is heated to flame temperatures (3000-4000 degs F).

The situation with coal is somewhat more complicated since it can contain 10% ash or more. Also the heat content (energy per pound) of the coal can vary with the form of the coal. Various forms of coal include anthracite, bituminous coal, sub-bituminous, lignite. Some nations also burn the precursor fuel, peat.

Someone seeking an understanding needs to know the chemistry of the coal being burned to be precise about these emissions. Within the world of coal, the chemistry of the ash, such as its sulfur content, is another problem. The choice of coal use becomes very complex and difficult, no thanks to regulations. For example, the coal being used on site at the Centralia, WA power plants was bituminous, had a high ash content, low heat content. But its low sulfur content at the time made this coal desirable.

Consider that 2 large coal plants of 500 MW(e) each, could burn a total of 10,000 tons of coal per day, producing 1,000 tons of ash, 400 tons of sulfur, 80 tons of NOx, and 9000 tons of CO2 per day. Most of the ash (98%+) could be recovered in the off-gas cleanup systems, as could some of the sulfur. The rest went up the stack. The ash was collected in ash piles around the plants, and used as backfill in open pit mines where possible. By contrast the air emissions from two 500 MW nuclear power plants is zero.

The coal ash also contains small amounts of radioactive uranium and thorium, and dozens of radioactive decay products from them, like radon. Because of this more radioactivity is emitted from a coal plant than from an operating nuclear power plant. The amount of radioactivity is quite small and nothing to worry about. To even detect this small amount would require some very good detection equipment.

Coal ash is even being used in a number of consumer products, usually some form of ceramic or building material. None of these pollutants are any different from what has been in the atmosphere and the soil for millions of years. We might quibble about local variations but not with the overall geological history of the ash.

Some people get bogged down in the discussions of risk. The subject of risk analysis is fascinating since it involves advanced mathematics as well as human fear, emotions, and misconceptions.

For example, the health risk of electricity production is not a zero sum game. If we were to ban the burning of coal, we'd also be banning the huge human benefits from the electricity the coal plants produce.

If we were to ban all coal, nuclear, hydro, and natural gas, which some misguided or uninformed Americans seem to want, we would also lose all of the benefits from the electricity produced, which is about 98% of the total. If this were to happen we'd be reduced to a 3rd world nation (which some Americans and foreign “friends” want). The lack of low cost electricity almost defines a 3rd world country. There are considerable health and human benefits we've derived from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, and we should keep them in mind.

Some have asked about the impact of these emissions on the ozone hole. As far as impacting the ozone holes I know of no research which suggests harm to the ozone hole from these emissions. The Antarctic ozone hole is largely a natural phenomenon. Because of the highly politicized nature of the subject, a prominent Yale scientist, William Happer even lost his job in Department of Energy. (see (

Vice President Al Gore fired him, when Happer’s solid scientific views were adverse to the environmental dogma of Gore and his green followers. Happer was asking too many questions about ozone holes, UV radiation, and proposing ozone science projects to resolve these scientific uncertainties, etc.

Because of the highly politicized nature of ozone hole studies, I have very little confidence in our understanding of the natural effects on polar ozone layers, and certainly that of the ozone in the stratosphere. Ozone holes seem to be part of a natural process in the Antarctic, and may be affected by man, maybe not.

Given the many sources of natural chlorine, which acts like a catalyst in ozone formation, I can visualize the process being essentially unaffected by man, and just going through its natural annual cycles. But people do run risks to their careers if they publish environmental information adverse to the dogmas of the powerful. It also helps keep government-funded scientists in line, avoiding certain lines of research.

Air temperature also seems to be involved in ozone formation. Air over the Antarctic is somewhat colder than over the Arctic. The colder air may explain why the ozone cycles are limited to Antarctic atmosphere.

People have also asked why the government allows the exaggeration of the risks of ozone holes, nuclear energy, global warming, Alar, DDT, dioxin, etc. Such people are naive politically. As has been told to me by elected officials, it would be political suicide for Congressmen and the leaders of regulatory agencies to insist upon serious science and engineering rigor in these matters. It all depends upon where the votes lie.

For example, for years members of environmental groups, thanks to their considerable political muscle, have been rewarded with key government positions in the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and in many state governments as well. The result is that science takes a back seat to public fear and propagandists.

There are laws on the books requiring the government to produce scientifically valid documents. For example, such a law might have prevented the US DDT ban of 1972 by the Environmental Protection Agency. This ban has now led to tens of millions of deaths from mosquito borne malaria, with hundreds of millions disabled, and we’re still counting.

The Federal Data Quality Act was actually signed by Clinton with the intention of improving the scientific quality of documents and reports coming out of the federal government. (While such a measure is needed badly by the state governments that is a different story). However, most Federal agencies have responded by ignoring the law, and no one seems to have the political will or clout to enforce it.

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., a science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter and a analysist for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is retired and living in Kaneohe. He has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level. His interest in the communications of science has led to several communications awards, hundreds of speeches, and many appearances on television and talk shows. He can be reached via email at reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to

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