We are constantly bombarded with information – much of it inaccurate, misleading, even deliberately so.
We are frequently told we must reduce carbon emissions, support “carbon disclosure” and invest in “carbon trusts” – to prevent catastrophic global warming, global climate change or global climate “disruption.” News stories, advocacy and lobbying activities, and corporate “ethics” promotions frequently use “carbon” and “carbon dioxide” almost interchangeably; some occasionally talk about “dangerous carbon monoxide emissions.”
Torn by misplaced hydrocarbon guilt, wanting to do right ecologically, and often scientifically challenged, people are naturally confused. Because so much is at stake – for our energy supplies and prices, jobs, economies, living standards, budget deficits and environment – clearing up that confusion is a high priority.
“Carbon” (chemical symbol C) is what we burn to get energy to power modern society. Carbon is the molecular building block for wood, charcoal and coal, and hydrocarbons (HC) like oil and natural gas. Cars and power plants do not emit carbon, except in the form of soot. Thus, talk of “carbon disclosure” or “reducing our carbon emissions” is misleading, unless one is confessing how much charcoal was used at a picnic, or apologizing for not having pollution controls on a wood-burning stove.
“Carbon monoxide” (CO) is an odorless, deadly gas. A natural product of combustion, it increases when ventilation is poor, oxygen levels are low and burning is inefficient. It’s why we shouldn’t use charcoal grills indoors or operate cars in garages, unless we’re suicidal.
“Carbon dioxide” (CO2) is another natural byproduct of combustion, from power plants, factories, vehicles, homes, hospitals and other users of wood, coal, petroleum and biofuels. This is what many environmental activists, politicians and scientists blame for recent and future climate change.
(The other major byproduct is water vapor or steam – plus pollutants that reflect impurities in the fuel and are removed via scrubbers and other technologies, or reduced by controlling the temperature, airflow and efficiency of combustion processes: sulfur and nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury and so on.)
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