CO2: Hero Or Villain?

As a youth I was taught that carbon dioxide is a wonderful thing. It is necessary for just about all life on Earth, and is fundamental to the photosynthesis that fuels all green plants. Further, there is a symbiosis between animal life–i.e., us–and plant life. Plants absorb CO2 and emit oxygen, while we inhale oxygen and exhale CO2.

Do middle school kids still learn such basics of biology and chemistry? I don’t know. In any event, CO2 has gotten a bad rap in more recent years as a greenhouse gas that in theory, ceteris paribus, can slightly elevate atmospheric temperatures. This principle of physics has morphed into the global warming grift/hysteria that we have all lived with for some time. So carbon dioxide, despite being necessary for plant life, and our life, has now become a villain.

But wait! It turns out that we also need CO2 to produce food. In fact, as I wrote here, the current lack of CO2 in the U.K. is producing a dire food shortage. How can there be a shortage and a surplus of CO2 at the same time?

The Telegraph tries to explain what is going on:

Shoppers face a shortage of meat and even ready-made pizzas long before Christmas if the carbon dioxide crisis continues, supermarket bosses and producers warned on Monday.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major chains, said it expected to see food shortages by the end of the week, while pork suppliers warned of “farmageddon” within 10 days.

Carbon dioxide is scarce because two fertilizer plants in the U.K. that generated CO2 as a by-product have shut down due to high energy costs. (The root cause of this whole fiasco is Europe’s reliance on pathetically inadequate wind and solar technologies. That is another, and much bigger, story.)

But why, exactly, is CO2 both scarce and much too abundant?

It seems ironic – we have both too much carbon dioxide and too little, at the same time, writes Emma Gatten, Environment Editor.

As the UN warns that CO2 emissions will continue to rise catastrophically in the next decade, we face possible food shortages because we can’t get enough of the gas in our supply chain.
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Supplies of carbon dioxide could now run out within five days, the meat industry has warned, which may mean British pork and poultry disappear from supermarket shelves. And yet the CO2 within our atmosphere continues to warm the planet – with disastrous results.

That is debatable, to say the least, but let’s go with it for the moment.

The contradiction goes to the heart of the green dilemma – creating new sources of CO2 is much easier and cheaper than removing it from the atmosphere.

The problem is essentially one of chemistry. The fertiliser manufacturer process leads to the creation of pure CO2, perfect for food-grade uses which demand almost 100 per cent purity.

But in the air, CO2 is 420 parts per million – way above the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million – which makes capturing it and turning it into a usable gas for the food industry difficult. That makes the process much more expensive, roughly four times the cost of creating CO2 from fertiliser.

Carbon can also be captured from the emissions of fossil fuel combustion, such as coal plants or blue hydrogen production, but this technology does not yet exist at scale.

So it makes sense to produce more CO2 rather than capturing the gas from the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 capture technology exists, but is not yet cost-competitive. But if CO2 threatens to pretty much destroy the Earth and our civilization, as environmentalists constantly tell us, can carbon capture possibly be expensive by comparison?

The post linked above includes this:

Mr Large said it is becoming a question of manufacturing survival in this country. “The UK has the most expensive industrial energy in Europe. We are running the very serious risk of meeting our carbon targets by deindustrialising the British economy,” he said.

It seems to me that the cost of carbon capture, whatever it might be, can only be insignificant compared with the disaster of returning the world to a pre-industrial state. Not for the environmentalists, who I think would welcome such regression, or for the “green” grifters. But for just about everyone else in the world.

If you seriously believe that CO2 has gone from hero to villain–I don’t, but let’s assume that for a moment–the only sane response, I think, is to go nuclear as rapidly as possible while developing carbon capture technology so as to continue, and expand, our use of fossil fuels, the Earth’s best and most versatile energy resource.

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