Climate Corner November 2023

After several weeks, Republicans selected Mike Johnson from Louisiana as the new Speaker of the House.  Though less confrontational than Jim Jordan, Mr. Johnson is a MAGA man through and through with hard, conservative positions on abortion, the 2020 election and climate.  Though he admits the climate is changing, as recently as 2017 he remained unconvinced that humans were the cause of Climate Change.  He felt natural causes were more likely at fault.  Perhaps you’ve encountered people who concede that Climate Change is real but ascribe it to natural cycles.  Here we go again, again…how do scientists know that burning fossil fuel is responsible?  What facts can you summon to disabuse climate deniers that neither natural causes nor volcanic eruptions are responsible for Climate Change.

A little high school science provides the answer.

Carbon has six protons in its nucleus, but may have six, seven or eight neutrons – which means there are three distinctive fingerprints, or isotopes, of carbon – C 14, C 15, and C 16.  Plants, volcanos, and fossil fuels emit different proportions of each carbon isotope.

And now for a little wonkiness…  Background cosmic radiation interacting with atmospheric nitrogen (seven protons and seven neutrons in the nucleus) may on vanishingly rare occasions cause one of the protons to become a neutron and convert it into an atom with six protons and eight neutrons, or Carbon 14*.  (This is a rare occurrence  as very little Carbon 14 is actually produced.)  Carbon 14 is unstable (radioactive) and gradually reverts to nitrogen – every 5,730 years +/- 40 years half of Carbon 14 reverts to nitrogen.  Plants, while they are alive, absorb atmospheric Carbon 14, but when they die their Carbon 14 begins to decay.  This was a major discovery and led to a Nobel Prize as it allowed scientists to accurately date organic material from 500 to 50,000 years ago – it’s called carbon dating.  

Fact 1:  Plants emit Carbon 14 while volcanic eruptions and fossil fuels do not.  Fact 2: Volcanic eruptions contain a higher proportion of Carbon 13 than either plants or fossil fuels.  A little table solves this “Clue”-like dilemma; is it Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, or Miss Scarlett who is responsible for Climate Change?


Origin Carbon 12 Carbon 13 Carbon 14
Plants High Low Trace
Volcanos Low High None
Fossil Fuels High Low None

Atmospheric CO2 contains little Carbon 14, and the amount hasn’t changed – therefore plants are not the cause of higher CO2 levels.  Over time the concentration of Carbon 12 relative to Carbon 13 has increased – volcanic eruptions are not the cause of higher CO2 levels.  The only remaining culprit of Climate Change is fossil fuels – or more accurately the burning of fossil fuels.  Case solved.  Case closed.

Mr. Johnson has reached step 4 in the DC Denial graphic, “not people”.  When this position becomes untenable, he will climb to step 5, “it will cost too much to solve”, or advance to step 6, “you (China) go first”.  I hope he doesn’t fall off step 8 and belatedly realize that Climate Change will be a disaster for his four kids after he dies.  But at age 51 he is young enough that he might live long enough to suffer as he sees not only his progeny, but all young Americans struggling to adapt to, and mitigate Climate Change.

Climate skeptics follow a predictable path – DC Denial.  “Politicians” is red for a reason – Republicans are most likely to be climate deniers.

Step 1:  Climate Change is a hoax.

Step 2:  Who knows what causes it?

Step 3:  Maybe it’s related to people, maybe not.

Step 4:  It’s real, but not caused by people.

Step 5:  Yes, it’s caused by people, but it will cost too much to fix.

Step 6:  You (China) make the first change (sacrifice).

Step 7:  It’s real, it’s caused by people, but I don’t care.

Step 8:  I’ll be dead before it becomes a problem.

Step 9:  WAIT!  WAIT!!  WAIT!!!  My family will suffer?!  Subtext, “Let’s do something.” 

It’s much easier to do “something” now, rather than wait 10 or 20 years before acting, unless you’re making a living from digging coal, drilling oil, or pumping natural gas.

A few other unfun facts about the new speaker.

  1. The American Energy Alliance awards him a rating of 100.
  2. The League of Conservation Voters rates him as 2%.

His largest contributor, to the tune of $23,800 in the current election cycle, is the fossil fuel industry.  They have supported him heavily in the past and will undoubtedly continue going forward, most likely even more as the new speaker wields his power, and wields power over energy policy.

Please do two things.

  1. Elect Democrats.
  2. Pass this along to both your friends and climate skeptics.

*Elements are determined by the number of protons in the nucleus.  An atom with six protons and eight neutrons is carbon while an atom with seven protons and seven neutrons is nitrogen, even though they have about the same atomic weight.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.