The science of carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a main component in greenhouse gas, which traps heat and warms our planet. 

Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas that appears as water when in a liquid form. Exposure in high concentrations has been found to cause dizziness and restlessness, tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling while it can make breathing difficult, result in extreme tiredness, increase of heart rate, elevate blood pressure. It also causes coma, asphyxiation and convolutions. Not incidentally, research has found that human activities emit more than 60 times the amount of carbon dioxide than natural events, such as volcanic eruptions.

Carbon dioxide has been present in the atmosphere since the Earth condensed from a hot ball of gases following our planet’s initial formation about five billion years ago. The first signs of life on Earth came into existence at the planet’s development some 2.5 million years ago. The original plants on Earth consumed CO2 (as they do to this day) so that at a mark in time some 20 million years ago, CO2 levels were at or near 300 parts per million (ppm).

Life on Earth has evolved under these conditions with humans having appeared about 200,000 years ago. The carbon dioxide at 300 parts per million at that time persisted until the Industrial Revolution brought with it massive emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, coal and oil. Meanwhile, CO2 plays an important role in climate as it is one of the atmospheric gases which keep the Earth’s surface at about 33 degrees fahrenheit; it would otherwise be well below 0 degrees, were carbon dioxide and its companion gases not present.

By modern measures, CO2 ppm have regularly exceeded 400 ppm or 40 percent higher that the Earth’s pre-industrial value and a level not known on Earth for several million years. This is a fact judged indisputable by eminent scientists throughout the world. Not only are ever greater increases in atmospheric-borne CO2 a danger to the very survival of our species but also, as the oceans warm they are expanding to rise, a phenomenon we see happening everywhere land meets sea.

Oregon’s political leaders have been proposing what is known as a cap and trade program which is proposed to reduce emissions of pollutants by placing a limit (or cap) on the total amount of emissions released by the sources covered by this program. The overall cap on emissions is implemented through a system of allowances using an algebraic formula.  

Cap and trade is an alternative to a carbon tax to reduce emissions and run through a system where big polluters are issued permits by auction or allocation.

Oregonians, based on their industry, are for or against a cap and trade regimen. Unfortunate for the average person in our state, Oregon’s legislators too often are helped most in campaign costs by wealthy individuals, corporations and others in our society who wield the financial means and power to give big money to those who will do their benefactor-bidding once in office. These arrangements between the powerful rich and persons holding public office means usually that those who hold elected positions do not always do what’s best for the general population; rather, they do what was promised in a quid pro quo. It is the rich and powerful now who determine the fate of cap and trade and our survival.

Carbon dioxide has become a threat to our existence. Meanwhile, there are interventions by which we humans could bring controls to bear on the matter and reduce, if not eliminate, its dangers. However, since greed and self-aggrandizement are often dominant in the “dark” corners of decision-making, the costs to control CO2 emissions—if a law is passed—will be passed along to the poor and powerless among us. If we could ever come to a place in our human relations where the rich and powerful become dedicated to helping and caring for others, we could act decisively on carbon dioxide and thereby save ourselves.  

Publicly-funded elections is one indirect action that would mitigate corruptions now rampant, its time overdue.