Understanding carbon emissions

Updated
 
Global warming isn't a campfire ghost story.
Global warming isn't a campfire ghost story.
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Dave Weigel heard Rick Santorum speak in Davison, Michigan, over the weekend, and apparently this was one of the Republican’s “blockbuster” lines:

“CO2 is a pollutant? Tell that to the plants.”

Santorum liked this phrasing so much, he apparently used it three times. (Either that, or Dave accidentally hit “paste” a little too often.)

In either case, the line comes up relatively frequently on the right. In 2010, a Republican senator argued, in all seriousness, “Without carbon, my trees would die.”

In 2009, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) explained during a House committee hearing that it would be wrong to reduce carbon emissions because the pollution is “plant food.” Shimkus rhetorically asked his colleagues, “[I]f we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?”

Last year, the House Republican conference made Shimkus the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. They are not without a sense of humor.

It’s probably worth pausing from time to time to consider this on the merits, in case anyone is inclined to take the right’s rhetoric seriously.

We’re currently pumping about 90 million tons of carbon emissions into the air every day. This creates the conditions that lead to global warming, and the seriousness of the crisis continues to get worse.

The plants Rick Santorum is encouraging us to talk to do not need 90 million tons of carbon to survive. Or put another way, the fact that plants use carbon does not make it okay when we have too much carbon pollution.

The crisis is real, and the need for a grown-up debate is overwhelming. We need policymakers who are up for the task, not policymakers who think “Tell that to the plants” is a clever policy observation.

Understanding carbon emissions

Updated