Energizing Cap and Trade Discussions – Part 1 (Introducing CO2)

Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, is a natural byproduct of nature. Nature produces CO2 in large quantities during volcanic eruptions, geo-thermal events, and other processes as simple as breathing and normal chemical breakdowns of other elements. It is an essential component of photosynthesis, which is the process of plants changing CO2 into oxygen, and an essential component of the “carbon cycle.” At proper levels, CO2 is a requirement to sustain life.

When the ratio of CO2 to other elements becomes disrupted, the carbon cycle is also disrupted. The earth’s eco-system may not be able to absorb the excess CO2 present within the system, and the cycle is changed to account for disruption in the status quo of nature.

One byproduct of excess CO2 in nature may be excess “greenhouse gases,” which may have the effect of retaining heat within the earth’s atmosphere. This is widely accepted as being the main cause of global warming, which many scientists believe is causing much of the world’s problems with deforestation, drought, and melting of the polar ice caps.

We generate CO2 through use of energy ranging from driving a car, to running air conditioning, refinery of oil products, or anything else that is lit, propelled, heated, or cooled. The US Government Energy Information Institute estimates production of excess CO2 in the United States in 2008 reached around 6 billion metric tons. Most of that was produced in urban areas, with the excess CO2 remaining present within the local area in the form of pollution – while at the same time contributing to greenhouse gas effect in the atmosphere.

Positive Use of CO2 in Day to Day Life

CO2 is used in many products we use every day. It is used to provide “carbon”ation in soft drinks, removing caffeine in coffee and other drink products, compressed air in items such as life preservers, production of plastics (OK, maybe not a real good example), and even wine making.

That is all good.

Health Effects of Too Much CO2

As mentioned above, and taught to every child in basic biology, CO2 is an essential element in the process of photosynthesis. We breath oxygen, and our lungs and blood system binds used oxygen molecules together with a carbon molecule as kind of a human sewage system. We exhale CO2 , plants grab the CO2 , and eventually convert the CO2 into sugars, oxygen, and other stuff that is needed to fertilize and sustain life.

In normal air, the concentration of CO2 is somewhere between 360 and 390 parts per million/PPM. It can vary depending on how far you are from green plants, and the source of global oxygen production.

When the concentration of CO2 in air starts hitting around 1000 PPM, the human body starts reacting with a bit more difficulty breathing, and a bit of dizziness. Think of the miners caught underground in mining disasters, and the almost narcotic effect of CO2 on their breathing when trapped without a fresh source of oxygen for prolonged periods.

At concentrations of CO2 greater than 5000 PPM, you can expect you will begin to suffer permanent damage, as your blood will become starved for oxygen. Eventually, you die when the body breathes in too much CO2 . In an extreme example, this is what happens to you when running a car in a closed garage to commit suicide – eventually the oxygen is overwhelmed by high concentrations of CO2 produced by burning fossil fuel in your car engine.

The Double CO2 Whammy

So here is an issue. The combination of excess CO2 production creating higher levels of heat trapping, global warming greenhouse gases, as well as the continued production of CO2 through increasing use of fossil fuels.

Do we sit back and hope our lives end before the planet starts to crumble, taking the attitude some other generation down the road will figure it out, or do we begin, not only as a city, nation, and society – but also as a planet community to address and find a solution to the issue?

The Great CO2 Debate

Of course, as you would expect, not everybody even believes this is a problem. That is fine, to come up with a consensus and potential response to the legions of scientists who are crying for greater awareness of global warming through some level of dissenting debate. That debate is currently being waged within the US Senate, as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), or more commonly known as the Cap and Trade Bill, hit the senate and American media.

Cap and Trade is a difficult topic, and in fact H.R. 2454 itself contains more than 1400 pages of legislation. Cap and Trade, according to the Sightline Institute (warning, this is also a special interest group), can be defined as:

In short, the “cap” is a legal limit on the quantity of greenhouse gases that a region can emit each year and “trade” means that companies may swap among themselves the permission – or permits – to emit greenhouse gases.

Cap and trade commits us to responsible limits on global warming emissions and gradually steps down those limits over time. Setting commonsense rules, cap and trade sparks the competitiveness and ingenuity of the marketplace to reduce emissions as smoothly, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible.

They also produced a document entitled “Cap and Trade 101, A Federal Climate Policy Primer” which may help understand their perspective of the benefits of H.R. 2454.

The range of debatable issues ranges from those who believe there is absolutely nothing credible in the discussion on greenhouse gases and excess CO2, to those who believe we are on the brink of global disaster. There are those who base their objections to a comprehensive energy and security policy on economic reasons, political lines, or simply through affiliation with industries that will need to re-engineer much of their operations to comply with caps on fossil fuel use and carbon production.

Those on the pro side of the debate are concerned with making our country energy-independent, and stronger through design and construction of alternative energy sources and green living.

It will be a good debate, and all Americans need to be part of the learning process, understand the issues, and weigh in with all possible intelligence with our elected representatives. Feel free to comment here – we’ll make sure your voice is heard within the CTC community. Regardless of where you stand on the debate.

Next articles in series:

  • Part 2 – the Con side of the debate
  • Part 3 – the Pro side of the debate
  • Part 4 – Summarizing the debate, and future recommendations


John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

One Response to Energizing Cap and Trade Discussions – Part 1 (Introducing CO2)

  1. Daniel Rothman says:

    John –

    Great topic. Too bad I agree too thoroughly with the facts as presented to actually “debate”. I’m a great fan of cap-and-trade as a mechanism for harnessing market forces to drive change, while at the same time building in a ramp-down mechanism through long-term cap reductions. The fact that this has been implemented previously (sulfur dioxide/acid rain emissions) with great success is another great selling point for me – proven mechanism over abstract theory.

    On the topic of abstract theory…. “externalization” of negative impacts is one of the bugaboos of economics. If cost of energy increases based on cap-and-trade, some of the increase may be attributable to beaurocracy and “tax”, but much of the difference should also be seen as a proper “internalization” (or recognition) of costs previously dumped into the environment. When those costs are properly recognized, the cap-and-trade system acts as a market mechanism to properly allocate them.

    There’s an elegance and parsimony to the approach that warms a mathematicians heart.


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