Oil companies saying greenhouse gases are not ‘pollution’ = cigarette companies denying health impacts of smoking

As the world experiences the hottest year on record, the oil companies backing Prop 23 are arguing that carbon dioxide (CO2 )—the main greenhouse gas causing climate change—is not pollution. Rather, they say, it is merely an “emission.” 

Really?  Do they think that California voters will be duped that easily? In a campaign full of misrepresentation, this whopper of a lie stands out.  

This double-talk reminds me of the slick mid-century ad campaigns by tobacco companies—featured in the current TV hit Mad Men—that convinced generations of smokers that tobacco brought no health risk. 

Consider this straightforward definition of pollution: “the introduction of harmful substances or products into the environment.”  There’s no doubt that CO2 fits this definition and our basic understanding of the term “pollution.” Of course, the oil industry uses “emissions” because it’s a scientific term that isn’t as easily understood as “pollution.” When the truth is ugly, there’s a tendency to dress it up with fancy words and confusing descriptions. 

Numerous studies show that CO2 does indeed have direct and local health impacts. The latest research was done by Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson, who I was with on a panel yesterday at this year’s CAPCOA Climate Forum.

Jacobson studied the local health effects of “CO2   domes” that form over cities. He found that these domes could increase urban smog and other air pollution problems, an effect that could cause the premature deaths of 50 to 100 people a year in California and 300 to 1,000 in the continental United States. 

These findings make the case for reducing CO2 emissions at the local level, which is exactly what California is doing through various clean energy and clean air policies, including AB 32.

It’s also undeniable that AB 32 measures—which will increase energy efficiency and our use of solar and wind energy—will reduce the need for coal plants that create air pollution that costs Americans billions of dollars every year in health care and lost productivity.

California already has some of the most polluted air in the country with more than 91% of residents living in counties that got failing grades in air quality

Prop 23 is backed by two of California’s—and this country’s—largest polluters. California voters are smart. They know that a vote against Proposition 23 is a vote for cleaner air and a healthier environment.

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  1. James Richard Tyrer
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Are there any coal fired power plants in California?

    I realize that the rest of this is a semantic argument. So, I should point out that the question is actually whether Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant. It doesn’t really appear to me that it meets the definition of pollutant. The reason is that it is a substance which naturally occurs in the air.

  2. Posted September 22, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    No, there are no coal fired power plants in california, but we do import coal generated power from outside the state. Also, we burn coal to power our in state cement plants (11 of them) as well as some oil extraction facilities.

    Also, CO2 is a pollutant, the Supreme Court said so in Massachusetts v EPA as it threatens the public health and welfare and must be regulated as such under the Clean Air Act.

    Tim O’Connor
    Environmental Defense Fund