Ontario’s billion-dollar plans to reduce plant food

Using climate regulations to reduce pollution is obviously an expensive blunder

Tom Harris

The Ontario government’s throne speech last month told us that “you cannot be serious about lowering emissions and fighting climate change without a price on carbon pollution.”

Nowhere in the speech is it specified what this supposed pollution actually is. That’s probably because, if it did, many people would realize that the Ontario government is wasting billions trying to control a non-pollutant in the hope of having an impact on global climate.

In a March 14 press release, Premier Kathleen Wynne advised that her government is “building a cleaner, low-carbon Ontario.”

But carbon is not unclean. Carbon is a solid, naturally-occurring, non-toxic element found in all living things. It forms thousands of compounds, much more than any other element. Medicines, trees, oil and even our bodies are made of carbon compounds.

Pure carbon occurs in nature mainly in the forms of graphite and diamond. So what is the “carbon pollution” the premier is concerned about? Is she speaking about soot emissions reduction?

Amorphous carbon, carbon without structure, is the main ingredient in soot, which is a pollutant important to control. Power plants have already done a good job reducing soot, as they have with other pollutants.

No, the premier is crusading against emissions of one specific compound of carbon: carbon dioxide (CO2). Ignoring the oxygen atoms and calling CO2 carbon makes about as much sense as ignoring the oxygen in water (H2O) and calling it hydrogen.

Calling CO2 carbon or, worse, carbon pollution encourages people to think of it as something dirty and so important to restrict. Calling CO2 by its proper name would help the public remember that, regardless of its role in climate change (a point of intense debate among scientists), CO2 is really an invisible gas essential to plant photosynthesis and so to all life.

We are actually near the lowest level of CO2 in Earth’s history. During a multimillion-year period around 440 million years ago, CO2 was more than 1,000 per cent of today’s level while Earth was stuck in the coldest period of the last half-billion years. The climate models’ assumption that temperature is driven by CO2 is clearly wrong.

The Ontario premier doesn’t seem to understand that commercial greenhouse operators routinely run their internal atmospheres at up to 1,500 parts per million (ppm) CO2 for a good reason. Plants inside grow far more efficiently than at the 400 ppm in the outside atmosphere. Yet there is no hint of any consequent temperature rise.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts, a report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, cites more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies that document rising productivity of forests and grasslands as CO2 levels have increased, not just in recent decades but in past centuries.

And increasing CO2 levels poses no direct hazard to human health. CO2 in submarines can reach levels above 10,000 ppm, 25 times current atmospheric levels, with no harmful effects on the crew.

Finally, the premier jumbles up “the government’s actions on climate change,” with “making our air cleaner.” The throne speech switches back and forth between the two as if they were related. Activists do this often when they say there will be important pollution reduction co-benefits to CO2 emission control.

Yet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data show that total emissions of six major air pollutants dropped 62 per cent since 1980 even though CO2 emissions increased by 14 per cent. Using climate regulations to reduce pollution is obviously an expensive blunder.

The Ontario government’s ‘carbon pollution’ mistake is dangerous because it dumbs down a vitally important science debate and inappropriately sways millions of people and, ultimately, government policy. The premier says that climate change is a fight that “our children and grandchildren can’t afford for us to lose.”

What our children and grandchildren really can’t afford is to pick up the tab for the Ontario government’s billion-dollar plans to lead the world on reducing plant food.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.


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