In a new book ‘Eco-Freaks, Environmentalism is hazardous to your health’, John Berlau contends that environmentalists have promoted doomsday scenarios some of which have proven to be false, and that nature is not always benign and can sometimes pollute and poison.
Following my post on John Berlau’s chapter on DDT (Eco-Freaks: Part 1, DDT), a regular commentator at this blog known as SJT, suggested the book was misleading because Berlau’s has written that, “tree contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than cars.”
When I first posted on DDT, I hadn’t read the chapter on trees or the chapter on cars.
I read on, and on, and on, including these two chapters. But I could not find any reference to “trees contributing more C02 to the atmosphere than cars”.
So I emailed John Berlau. He replied:
I never have written that trees contribute more CO2. I was talking about the hydrocarbons in smog, [in] which I do document that tree contribute a greater portion, part of which is due to the fact that the catalytic converter has reduced cars’ hydrocarbon emissions by 90 percent.
But also due to the fact that new measurements show that gases from trees contribute much more than thought, when devices were developed to trace the hydrocarbons’ source.
The first such study documenting this was the University of Georgia Chaimedes in 1988. It has been show again by dozens of prestigious reasearchers, including some I cite [in the book] from Australia’s top scientific agency.
[Ronald] Reagan, however, was not simply pulling this out of his hat when he said this in the late 1970s and the 1980 campaign. He cited scientists such as Texas A&M’s John J. McKetta, who questioned the assumptions about the relative contributions of cars and trees [to smog] and were later vindicated when the research confirmed their theories.
An interesting point is that in cars, the catalytic converter reduces pollutants by, or course, transforming hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into water vapor and carbon dioxide. This was hailed as a great advance at the time, around the early 1970s.
Liberal senator Edmund Muskie, a Democrat from Maine who sponsored the Clean Air Act of 1970, spoke about how wonderful this device was that could turn these harmful pollutants into, in his words, “harmless carbon dioxide” that we breathe out and plants breathe in.
This is a point that needs to be made more often: that one major reason for the increase in carbon dioxide emissions is actually pollution control. [end of quote]
The first time John Berlau mentions trees and cars in ‘Eco-Freaks’ is in chapter 4 ‘Smashing the engine on public health’. This chapter is essentially about the long running campaign in the US against cars. On page 118 Berlau makes the point that:
“The main charge against cars made since the late 1970s is not that they are adding harmful pollution. It’s that they are contributing to the buildup of carbon dioxide … but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant like lead. It is a basic element that humans breathe out and plants breathe in. In fact, cars are emitting carbon dioxide in part as a way of reducing pollutants. Catalytic converters, placed on cars after the mandated pollution reductions from the Clean Air Act of 1970, “oxidize” pollutants such as carbon monoxide and harmful hydrocarbons and transform what comes out of the tailpipe into water and carbon dioxide. … Proponents of the Clean Air Act, including many environmentalists now sounding the alarm about carbon dioxide, thought this was great … proclaiming proudly that with catalytic converters, cars would now be primarily emitting the same substance that plants breathe. [end of quote]
In summary, trees can contribute to smog, cars now emit more carbon dioxide than they used to, and don’t believe everything you read in comments following my blog posts.