What If Carbon Pollution Was Visible?

If automobiles had never been invented and transportation still depended on horse power, we’d be knee deep in horse you know what.  We’d probably have some very strict equine pollution laws.  Now imagine if cars pooped out solid carbon pellets – lets imagine them to be orange and about the size of golf balls so they could shoot out existing tailpipes – then according to CarbonCounter.org my mid-size pickup truck would leave more than 10,000 of these car turds on the highway and streets every year.   My house would excrete more than 26,000 of these scat balls piling up around the yard.

Carbon is invisible and goes way up into the atmosphere.  It’s easy to think we’re not doing anything to the climate.  But if pollution was solid and visible, we probably couldn’t see anything else.  What if every kind of pollution was a color coded feces.  Methane could be green balls, sulfur could be brown, etc.  Try and imagine what our streets would look like.  I doubt they would be drivable.

If we could see the invisible pollution we’re putting into the air, or into the sea, we’d realize that we have a huge problem.  I don’t want to take the time to do the mathematics, but I bet we’d all be standing pretty deep in piles of colored balls.  And the funny thing is, if we had cars that made solid pellets out of carbon we would not need to worry about the greenhouse effect.  People are trying to invent technology to sequester carbon underground.  To understand the magnitude of that problem, once again picture how many colored balls would be laying around to be picked up and put somewhere.

Think about it another way.  What if you had to pay $1 for every pound of carbon you polluted and the only way to get a deduction from this tax was to produce less carbon?  If my wife and I worked to be more efficient, we might could reduce $50,000 a year down to $20,000, but that’s still leaving a lot of pollution.  And when you think how the standard of living is rising all around the world, we’re quickly back to being waist deep in carbon doo-doo.

When environmentalist talk about rolling things back to how it was before 1990 or 1980, and that means asking Americans to consume 50% less, it would also mean asking a billion people that climbed from underdeveloped to developed to step back into poverty.  If Americans could find a mode of transportation that had 1/20th of the impact on the environment, then the rest of the world could come up to our standard – but then we’d all need to cut consumption by half.

The magnitude of the problem is just horrendous.  And we really don’t see it because carbon is invisible.  How sneaky.  I’m a positive guy.  I like to believe we can solve this problem.  I like to think humans can overcome anything, but if you read Jarrod Diamond you know our track record 0 in N tries.  Why didn’t all the brilliant MBAs running Wall Street not see the sub-prime fiasco coming?  As a race, civilizations seem to prefer to collapse, and then pull a Phoenix, rather than do a caterpillar and butterfly act.

Lots of people love spectator sports.  I like watching all the nations on the Earth play the game of survival.  The United States has no trouble facing any odds if it can play the game with guns, but for some reason we don’t want to compete when science is the weapon of choice.  Science fiction writers really should help us see what lies ahead, so more people can see the invisible coming.


One thought on “What If Carbon Pollution Was Visible?”

  1. Greetings Jim. You sound distraught. I’m an environmental chemist–yes really–and I’m here to help.

    Been busy with end-of-the-summer stuff, energy conservation lectures, shopping, etc., and haven’t been able to visit. Now I’m laid up for a week after an oral surgery and have time to chat. Great to see you are writing.

    Now the problem you have in developing this essay is starting from a false proposition. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and a government fiat can’t change that. We are both old enough to have seen these scare campaigns again and again. Let’s see this one through as adults.

    If it helps, you can be sure that our society has made tremendous strides in energy efficiency. When I speak on this topic now, I start with a caution about taking it too far; neglecting health and safety issues. Americans spend about 3% of their incomes on petroleum products these days; same as during the Eisenhower Administration. Why didn’t they howl about the expense then? Because too many dummies saw the era of cheap oil as a ticket to a more opulent lifestyle. I made adult choices about conservation over the past 2 decades and now I pay 1% of my income on fuel. But for everyone else, a few painful market signals will help to get their houses in order.

    Don’t let the carbon scare industry get you down. There is a scientific consensus on Anthropological Climate Change. By a ratio of 6:1, scientists don’t believe it. But to see that consensus, you have to go beyond the few scientists who depend on ACC for their livelihood. We know for sure that global warming causes spikes in the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, not the other way around. The deliberate obfuscation-for-profit of this historically verified sequence is inexcusable.

    For the time being, and perhaps the rest of our lives, we will face a world that will become colder. This is not happy news for Vermonters. Or anyone else. A colder world means higher rates of human morbidity and mortality. That brings less wealth creation, less prosperity and eduction. Environmental degradation will follow. So let’s deal with those troubles, without the meaningless distractions of non-polluting “pollutants.”

    As an aside, I hope you would be interested to know that chemists–spectroscopists in particular–see atmospheric gases in color. Just as every bird finds its berry, due to the wonderful nature of chemical bonding, every chemical finds its photon. Those colors might lie in infrared or ultraviolet wavelengths, but they come through the photometrics.

    I mention that wondering why you would ever suppose that America doesn’t “want to compete when science is the weapon of choice.” That is just so silly, it says more about you than our country. I am utterly confident that we will continue to produce the scientific and technological advances we need. You owe yourself a trip to Cambridge or Chicago or Pasadena to convince yourself of this.

    So tell me what’s really irking you? I’ll go first. I can’t find a foldable photovoltaic array to run my MacBook for less than $300.

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