Dear Mr. Boehner, cancer is not the reason for our fright over CO2

Posted November 22nd, 2010 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Words of wisdom and guidance from the next Speaker of the House, John Boehner:

“…the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

When cows do what they do… Indeed.

Actually, that would be methane, Mr. Soon-To-Be-Speaker. Cows belch methane.

And we have not been saying that carbon dioxide causes cancer. We have been saying that it warms the atmosphere and causes climate change. Yes, yes, most of us learned in grade school that humans breathe out CO2. But, Mr. Boehner, we do not breathe out enough of this gas to put the chemical balance of the atmosphere out of whack. Industrialization has done that. Our burning of fossil fuels has done that.

Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

By the way, what cows do produces a greenhouse gas even more potent than CO2, though it does not linger as long as CO2, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. But the faster dissipation of methane is being overwhelmed by the spewing of it from industrial livestock agriculture, the burning of rainforests, and the melting of permafrost because of global warming.

Really, friends, this is beyond frightening. Is it ignorance, lack of education, willful denial, political calculation (giving up the future for political expedience or personal enrichment)? Is he saying this with a straight face, or does he have his fingers crossed behind his back, or maybe a little wink and nod towards the fossil fuel industry that supports him? Is this like the tobacco company executives swearing that smoking does not cause cancer, even when they knew it did?

Because the answer to that is relevant to how we address it now. Are we dealing with woeful cultural ignorance, or political manipulation for the sake of the corporate bottom line?

Boehner made this comment in April 2009 in response to a question from George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. The following link is to the transcript and video of the interview at  See what you think.

In my last post I embedded a video of the comment of Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) saying that God won’t let anything bad happen, that the Bible is “the infallible word of God.” I fail to see how that belief helps us address what Man [sic] has caused, not God.  Shimkus wants to be chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Then there’s Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who also wants that position. This from The New Yorker magazine:

Barton…”one of the House’s top recipients of contributions from the oil-and-gas industry—argues that CO2 emissions have nothing to do with climate change, and, in any event, people will just adapt. ‘When it rains, we find shelter,’ he has said. ‘When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay.'”

You see? Not a problem.

So, where are we this morning? I have two examples that show where we are. First, is yet another study indicating the scientific reality of human-induced global warming.   “…the lowest level of the atmosphere, where the majority of weather occurs, has been warming right along with the land surface in recent decades,” yet another sign of the linkage between climate change and weather. The study also shows “…a consistency in global warming through the troposphere as greenhouse gas levels rose.”

You can find a brief summary of the findings in this week’s, Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet. It contains a link to the study.

China air pollution - NASA photo

Couple this with today’s story in the NY Times, Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It To Feed China’s Need. Hey, if you don’t want our coal, we’ll produce it and send it off to those who do want it. Meanwhile, not only do the CO2 emissions continue their steady rise, but you on the West Coast get to import it back in the form of even more toxic air!!  What a deal!

But, hey, this is job creation in a bad economy – which is one reason why I fear the worst in these next few years. Unemployment is going to blunt any efforts to rein in the fossil fuel industry. Things are going to get dirtier, more destructive of our eco-communities, and warmer still.

There will be no leadership out of this political culture – which is why we need to create a new culture ‘from below.’ Think of the mountains leveled, the valleys and rivers poisoned, to feed this export market! Most of the culture, even many environmentalists, think only of what happens at the end of this process, the burning of coal, the spewing of CO2 and nitrous oxide into our atmosphere. But even if that could be cleaned up (and it won’t be, there is no incentive for it right now), coal would be a completely objectionable, immoral, earth-wasting industry. It would continue to bring disease and death to humans who live in ‘coal country.’

Movement-building time, friends. But even more, culture-changing times, economy-changing times. Think of what you read here. Think of the energy you use and where it comes from. Think of what you really need and don’t need. This movement is not just about protesting the use of fossil fuels, it’s about building the scaled down way of life, a fiercely local life, the community-based way of life, that will undermine the economy that supports this destructive and dirtiest source of energy. And it is about joining hands with those who are struggling each day to end the era of dirty coal.

See our “You Can Change the World” page for a listing of some of our favorite groups in Appalachian coal country. Then check your own regions for campaigns to shut down or prevent new construction of coal plants.


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2 Responses

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    It seems some of the people forget their fundamentals wrong, by coting wrong ones Mr John Boehner has shown his ignorance. While we are talking about for the reduction of carbon-dioxide, use of endosulphan, dioxin emitting materials etc, for better environment for sake of the life on this earth, it is improper to talk like that. Instead people like him in the helm of affairs should make the laws more effective for reducing the pollution of air and earth and environment. Or should help us to find alternatives for reducing the pollution and improving the environmental degradation.

  2. hombredelatierra

    More than simple “ignorance” is involved here!

    If you study the “arguments” of GW “sceptics” or deniers, you will discover a RADICAL DISCONNECT from PHYSICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL REALITY (or probability). I used to find this “whackiness” irritating but now see it as a symptom of closed-minded reactionary thinking and a strong indicator that I am wasting my time in attempting to rationally argue or convince by appealing to FACTS, LOGIC, PROBABLE PSYCHOLOGICAL MOTIVATION,..

    Here is an example or three of “ideological” or “reactionary” thinking, off the top of my head:

    1- Stereotyped Thinking: In a critical (strongly biased, free marketeer) review of Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”, a reviewer remarked, ludicrously, that the author “romanticized primitive cultures” and their non-monetary systems of economic exchange (based on magic, myth and ritual).

    Now, the fact that Polanyi did NOT ROMANTICIZE “primitive cultures” is – surprisingly – not relevant! What actually “counted” in the reviewer’s mind was that (1) Polanyi argued against gloabalized “free markets” and (2)referred to himself as a “socialist” (“social democrat” would have been more appropriate). For his “thought-crimes” against “free market” capitalism, Polanyi found himself relegated to the ranks of the (detested) counter-cultural “tree-huggers” who are “against the free market” and “romanticize primitive cultures”. (The fact that Polanyi happened to write his work 25 years BEFORE “tree huggers” emerged on the political / cultural scene is also irrelevant..)

    The authoritarian – reactionary – mind responds “stereotypically” (“woodenly”) to emotionally loaded “triggers” (words, images, labels, gestures, phrases,..) much as instinctive behaviors in animals provide rapid, intense “STEREOTYPIC” responses to “triggering stimuli”. It is this “stereotypy” which accounts for much of the whackiness encountered in reactionary thinking.

    Such responses tend to be “all of a piece” (all or nothing), unnuanced (black / white, good / evil, “for us” / “against us” – dichotomous), or “out of context”.

    In the current case, the reviewer’s strong negative response to Polanyi’s anti-“free market” stance, TRIGGERED false (stereotypic) labeling: “romanticizer of primitive cultures”. In the reviewer’s mind the complex “anti-capitalist / tree-hugger / romanticizer of primitive cultures” constitutes a functional – and dangerous – unity. Triggering one part of the (perceived) complex triggers the sterotypic response to the total(perceived) unity. One sees this easily enough in racism: Group X are “bad people”; if one is identified as belonging to Group X, one “must be” a “bad person” (whether or not one, in fact, is bad..)

    2- Inability to get facts straight: The Club of Rome Report, “The Limits to Growth” (1972) has been castigated for “unfufilled predictions” by “debunkers” of alternative energy (and other progressive environmental causes). However, I recently reread the report and can confirm that on AT LEAST THREE OCCASIONS the authors EXPLICITLY STATE that they ARE NOT MAKING PREDICTIONS but providing “scenarios” whose function is NOT TO PREDICT SPECIFIC OUTCOMES but to isolate the “robust behaviors” of the system under study. Thus the Club of Rome were not predicting that non-renewable resource X would run out by such and such a date (in fact, they ran several computer simulations with different assumptions to show how modifying initial assumptions affected the dates when resources would run out..). They were simply demonstrating that an economy based on non-renewable resources and on continous (exponential) growth WILL rather quickly run out of resources, the exact dates being dependant on one’s initial assumptions. They were analysing the “robust behavior” of our economy – non-renewable resource depletion – and not the specific dates at which depletion actually occurs (In reality, the issues of specific dates is pretty irrelevant since under a regime of continuous, exponential growth, halving consumption rates or tripling recoverable reserves has amazingly little effect on depletion dates. In reality, all one can do is advance or retard depletion by several decades in either direction. In any case, the current unsustainable depletion of resources will lead to exhaustion SOMETIME in the 21st CENTURY – which is the REAL point the Club of Rome authors were trying to make!!)

    My point is that there is SYSTEMIC and SELECTIVE ignorance / distortion of fact and logic in reactionary thinking. It is wrong to assimilate such thinking to simple – “innocent” – ignorance. This ignorance is either self-imposed or willingly accepted from “authorities” (often internet based propaganda sites sponsored by the fossil fuel lobby and their allies).

    I perceive a moral, spiritual corruption here – a hypocrisy, a self-interested “agenda” – which is not present in the mere fact of not knowing (traditional, “innocent” ignorance). More – and worse – than “ignorance” is involved..