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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Carbon dioxide: Part 7

Now that we have established some of the basic facts regarding CO2, we should pause to ask a few questions. Do we know all there is to know about CO2? Are we certain what is causing the increase in carbon dioxide concentration? Do we really know what an increase or decrease in carbon dioxide does to the climate?

It was not until the 1600s that it was shown that air is a mixture of gases. Jan Baptist van Helmont identified the compound we know as carbon dioxide. For the first time, CO2 was isolated by Joseph Black in 1757.
The length of time that we have known the composition of the air is very short compared to human existence. Prior to the 1950s, testing equipment was not available to make the precise measurements recorded in the Mauna Loa Observatory chart. Repeatable, accurate measurement of the components of air is absolutely essential to a good comprehension of our atmosphere. For the first time in history, in our own lifetime, we are now able to collect accurate data regarding the air we breathe and attempt to interpret it. Many of us were born before this testing equipment was invented.

The data represented in the Mauna Loa chart is what it is. There is not any reason to disbelieve it. However, we may still be in grade school with respect to understanding the data. Joseph Black never knew what he had started. Even though we can accurately measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we still do not understand adequately how CO2 affects the climate and vice versa. We must be cautious about dogmatizing, which is precisely what Al Gore is doing with great gusto and pomp.

Enormous effort has been expended to study the cause and effect of various foods and compounds on human health. It was concluded eggs were bad for us. Then they were OK. Coffee–bad, no good. Vitamin E–a cure-all, no not true. Anti-oxidants are great, well not as successful as we thought. It has gotten to the point where we expect new studies to negate former studies on a regular basis. If we can’t get the cause and effect of substances in the human body correct, how will we ever be confident we understand the complexities of the cause and effect of carbon dioxide in a whole world? It is quite arrogant to be dogmatic, for the scientific world is littered with rejected theories.

A few decades from now, the next generations may very well laugh at the naivete of the Goracle. For all we know, he might be rejected as a member of the Flat Earth Society. It is easy to be a know-it-all. The truly educated person must admit that extensive study always yields the proper conclusion that the more I learn, the more I discover I do not know.

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