A View From the Cheap Seats

March 12, 2008

Elemental madness and the hooves of change

Filed under: Environment,Global Warming,Politics — trzupek @ 11:37 am


By Larry Trzupek

If you’re familiar with the periodic table of the elements (now there’s a fond high school memory), you probably know that through most of history the table underwent a slow but steady expansion.

Over the 18th and 19th century, intrepid scientists discovered new elements that were dutifully added to the table, and by the twentieth century, with no new ones to be found, the successors of those scientists responded by making new ones.  Nuclear reactors and particle accelerators worked overtime as weird elements were formed that could be tacked on to the end of the table.

But now in the 21st century, a strange new movement has begun – a movement to shrink the periodic table.  And yes, it’s our old pals the enviro whacko’s who are out there trying to dial back several centuries of scientific achievement.

First the greenies decided they had to get rid of chlorine. Rachel Carson’s screed on DDT is largely recognized as the impetus for the modern environmental movement – and DDT is a chlorinated pesticide.  Not satisfied with a near-total ban on DDT (and tens of millions of Third World deaths as a result), the enviro’s soon agitated for bans on almost all chlorinated pesticides, and then just about everything else chlorinated as well.

Most readers of this space probably don’t realize that the usual proprietor of “Cheap Seats” got his start slapping down in print some green activist who wrote a column in the local paper in our South Side neighborhood, a column essentially castigating the local grandmothers for using chlorine bleach.

Not satisfied with trying to bump chlorine from the periodic table, environmentalists next set their sights on phosphorus.  And yes, excess phosphates can lead to significant declines in water quality, in some cases causing major “blooms” of algae.

So, yeah, there are cases when it makes sense to control the release of phosphates – but that’s not good enough for the environmental fringe – they’ve got to ban phosphorus.

You think I’m kidding?  Google “phosphorus” and “Antioch Illinois” and you’ll find out that the state Sierra Club has mau-mau’d that local village board into banning phosphorus-containing fertilizers.  Never mind that the amount of phosphorus in lawn fertilizer is unlikely to have any noticeable effect on the local lakes, or that goose droppings are full of the stuff.  God forbid we should actually approach the issue with any rationality.

Now the latest element to arouse the ire of the environmentalists is carbon.  Dealing with this one is a bit trickier, given that we’re carbon-based life forms (although I doubt that would give much pause to the “Voluntary Human Extinction Movement”, an actual organization which has taken radical environmentalism to its logical conclusion).

But now that the Supreme Court (with all of its scientific expertise) has declared carbon dioxide – a fundamental requirement for terrestrial life – a “pollutant”, the big green guns are out for carbon.

Banning carbon might – I emphasize might – be too hard to pull off even for the Sierra Club and its ilk, but there are plenty of ways to skin this cat.  And the one you can all look forward to is “cap and trade” regulation, which essentially will save us from an increase in another 100 parts-per-million of CO2 by strictly limiting (by increasing costs) the amount of carbon fuels that are burned.

In other words, if you’re upset at paying $3.50 for a gallon of regular now, wait until you see what it goes to when cap-and-trade comes into play.  If you, and the growing population, and the growing economy needs more gasoline, that puts pressure on the carbon “cap” – which leads to an increase in value for any “trade” – which ultimately will work its way back to the pump as – you guessed it – more bucks per gallon!

One can hardly imagine how much this scam has to excite its instigators in the Democrat Party.

First off, they reward their environmentalist special interests, whose gratitude is sure to be reflected in campaign contributions.

And, in effect, they institute in this manner a tax on carbon fuels, but one that is almost completely hidden, so it really gets hard to pin it on them.

But best of all, when everything starts to go to pieces as energy prices steadily creep up, they get to blame it all on President John McCain, the Republican idiot who was naïve enough to co-sponsor a bill to institute that system, and is even now campaigning on it!

Okay, maybe Barack or Hillary will win, but realize, then soaring energy prices will be the fault of Exxon or Ken Starr or something.  In any case, we can be pretty sure that the national media will keep the donkey’s hands clean on this one.

Now I’m not sure which element gets targeted after carbon, but chances are it won’t matter too much – if you screw with carbon fuels enough, it won’t be long before the economic devolution will make that question moot.



  1. 1. Invention of the periodic table is credited to Dmitri Mendeleev, in 1869. Not significant, really, but representative of how unanchored in fact some claims can be. Elements were discovered in the 18th century, but there was no periodic table to add them to.

    2. When DDT was first discovered to create huge problems, it was hoped other chlorinated hydrocarbon chemicals would do the trick. There never was any “targeting” of chlorine, which is, after all, a key part of essential nutrients, such as sodium chloride. In the 1980s, we had a scandal with infant formulae that omitted chloride, thereby causing brain damage in a few infants before the problem was caught. Chlorine, nor chlorides, are not targets. Damaging and dangerous chemical compounds are targets for research and regulation. Surely you’re not arguing for uncontrolled release of any chemical anyone can think of.

    3. Phosphate pollution was well documented in the mid-1960s, and was an earlier target of regulators. You still have phosphate-based detergents in your neck of the woods? Years of environmental lackadaisicalism seems to have taken a toll on your noble intentions.

    4. The Supreme Court isn’t in the business of declaring things as pollutants. That task falls chiefly to the EPA in the U.S. Anything can be a pollutant if it’s in dangerous quantities in the wrong place. Ozone is a deadly pollutant at ground level. Ozone is an important protective substance in the stratosphere, especially over the polar regions. Regulators know these things, generally.

    5. CO2 is essential for plant life, yes, but it is a poisonous gas to oxygen-breathing creatures. The question about climate involves the concentrations of CO2 at which it behaves as greenhouse glass, trapping heat in our atmosphere. That’s probably too subtle for you to glean much information from — but it’s the balance of CO2 that climatologists and ecologists fret over, appropriately.

    6. With your level of chemistry understanding, don’t buy stocks in any company that manufactures dihydrogen monoxide. DHMO kills in the wrong hands, if mishandled. Leave it up to the experts:

    Happy voting!


    Comment by Ed Darrell — March 13, 2008 @ 1:55 am | Reply

  2. Ed,

    Thanks for your comments.

    1. Some folks credit Lothar Meyer with the organization of chemical periodicity, while others go as far back as John Newland and Johhanes Dobereirner, who noted periodic tendencies earlier in the 19th century. But that’s not the point, is it? Mendeleev’s periodic table is used here as a literary device – unless of course you actually thought I was worried that holes at positions 6, 15 and 17 might show up in the tables in next year’s chemistry textbooks.

    2. You’re right – I’m not for the uncontrolled release of any chemical imaginable. (By the way, try not to end sentences with prepositions).

    However, you’re wrong, there has been targeting of chlorine, and there still is. In 1992, the International Joint Commission called for a “chlorine ban” for the Great Lakes region. That’s a “chlorine ban” – their term, not mine. That call for a “chlorine ban’ was reiterated later in the 1990’s, and was supported as such (“chlorine ban”) by a variety of environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and the National Wildlife Foundation.

    3. I never denied that phosphate pollution was a problem – the Chesapeake Bay region provides a textbook example. I’m sorry if you missed the point of my article, but it was not that such materials should be unregulated, but that the regulation should involve an approach more rational than blanket bans on materials with particular elements present.

    4. John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority: “Because greenhouse gases fit well into the Acts capacious definition of air pollutant, EPA has statuatory authority to regulate such gases . . .” I guess reasonable people could argue whether that statement (and others like it) in the SC decision in question means that the Supremes defined CO2 as a pollutant (and I guess we could take that argument all the way to the Supreme Court to settle the matter), so maybe your best bet would be to check with the usual suspects in the environmental community. For example, here’s the headline from an April 2, 2007 press release from the National Resources Defense Council: “Supreme Court: Heat Trapping CO2 a Pollutant”.

    5. It’s refreshing to joust with someone who actually has some appreciation for a dictum that goes as far back as Paracelsus in the 16th century: “The dose makes the poison”. Now strictly speaking, CO2 doesn’t actually “trap” heat in the atmosphere the way greenhouse walls do, it just slows its transfer from the atmosphere – but that’s a small point. The net result is pretty much the same – a warmer earth.

    The key question is how significant that effect is, and that topic has been treated in earlier columns. Some climatologists think it’s a significant effect, others consider it essentially negligible compared to other factors. At risk of bringing up a factor in this argument which may be overly subtle, one key consideration is that infrared absorption by CO2 follows Beer’s Law, which is a log function – that means that each added increment of CO2 has a proprotionately smaller effect on greenhouse warming.

    The only way one gets to dangerous warming under those circumstances is if one postulates feedback processes that are only predictable via modeling exercises of dubious reliability. I’ve never had anyone describe the subtleties of those models to my satisfaction – if you’re able to do so, I’m eager to listen.

    6. I only buy stock in oil companies and industries focused on the rape and pillage of mother earth. But I’m pleased you’re familiar with the classic DHMO satire. By the way, do you remember the poor woman who died a year or two back in a radio stunt? Some goofy DJ offered a prize for the audience member who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. Another DHMO casualty – once again, the dose makes the poison.

    Thanks again for taking the interest to write.


    Comment by LT — March 13, 2008 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

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