The title above is something Rush Limbaugh said during his radio show “The Rush Limbaugh Show” in the US. Paraphrasing, he said that since we humans exhale CO2 it can't possibly be poisonous or bad for us. Now, I don’t know anything about Rush Limbaugh. He’s probably clever and friendly. However, claiming that CO2 can’t be bad or poisonous since we exhale is kind of a silly statement. Childish even. A teacher I had in an ethics course at TU Delft showed us this video during a discussion on ignorance. I’m convinced that we need to take care of our planet in a better way than we have, and I do think that reducing our CO2 emissions is critical for improving our environment. But what about all these people who don’t believe this is a problem?
This morning I had a lecture in a course about infrastructure economy. My teacher, let's call him Professor X, has been giving hints almost every lecture that he does not quite believe in renewable energy. During the second hour of this lecture he let all his frustrations out on the "global warming issue" that he doesn't believe to be an issue. The lecture started with discussing internalizing of external effects and transferable emissions permits, which makes it possible for countries to trade with emissions. Professor X then showed us students about 10 graphs of empirical data showing that, in fact, the temperature on earth had nothing to do with the rise in CO2. He couldn’t contest that there is no increase in CO2 emissions, because even his data suggested that there is, but his point was that this had nothing to do with anything. Influence on temperature had to do with ocean currents and activity of the sun, not the fact that we’re releasing too much CO2. He also contested the fact that there even was something called "global warming" going on. Talking about CO2 he said it’s “not that scary at all”. He also claimed that students are currently brainwashed in school, where they learn about global warming and caring for the environment. Here I had to interrupt with a question, since I believe there are many negative effects from increased CO2 levels, not only a rise in temperature. So I said, “Professor X, what about all the other consequences? What about our oceans that absorb the higher levels of CO2 and become acidified in the process? What about coral reefs dying and populations of ocean animals becoming extinct because of this?”. To this, Professor X concluded that I need to educate myself in this area because oceans do not become acidic and coral reefs are not dying. And even if they are, they are dying because of tourists. OK. I ended the discussion there, even though my heart was beating pretty fast and adrenaline was pumping through my body. Professor X continued explaining why renewable energy is destroying our economy. I asked him, “What is your solution to the ever-so-current energy problem?” Professor X simply said: “Stop with current business – renewables are a dead end. Go nuclear! (with Torium as fuel)”.
This lecture really got me worked up, since Professor X challenged most of my beliefs. And hey, I’m all for challenge, even though I do think that also he should read some more articles on this subject. We need to be critical thinkers and read scientific articles from both sides. But talking about this, we need to see the bigger picture. We need to zoom out. It is clear that Professor X made his arguments in relation to the economy as it looks today, where countries go bankrupt without consumption. But what if we were to change that economy? What if it was OK that for a while, during this early era of big-scale solar and wind power, we did not profit from it? What if we could change the entire system? There are so many other issues with increasing CO2 levels than “just” global warming. War and poverty are also intertwined in this big mechanism where oil and other fossil fuels are involved. It’s more than just having a warmer climate, it’s about the whole order of the world. It’s a messy thing to sort out and I certainly don't have the solution. But I'd like to be a part of it, and challenge people like Professor X.