Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Do You Know the Difference?

Probably not, and that is exactly what they’re counting on.

CO (carbon monoxide – lighter than air) is formed as a result of oxygen-poor combustion (as in combustion engines,) it is used as a coloring agent in US meat production (illegal in EU and Japan,) and has potential in the medical field as a biological regulator. It is widely used in chemical manufacturing. It may even be used, one day, as a fuel source on Mars. CO is toxic to humans in very low concentrations (35ppm.) Atmospheric concentrations are approximately 0.1ppm.

CO2 (carbon dioxide – heavier than air) “is a colorless, odorless gas vital to life on Earth.” Plants use it to photosynthesize sugars from CO2 and water (with oxygen produced as a byproduct.) CO2 is produced by the respiration of animals and fish, organic decay, fermentation, and combustion of wood and fossil fuels. It is used throughout many industries for decaffeinating coffee, adding sparkle to carbonated beverages (soda, beer, champagne) and when frozen becomes ‘dry ice’. CO2 is only toxic in extremely high concentrations (>70,000ppm.) Atmospheric concentrations are between 360 – 410ppm depending on location.

The above article contradicts itself in several places and also claims that CO2 is directly responsible for ‘global warming’, but more on that later.

In a sentence, CO is poison and CO2 is plant food necessary for all life on Earth. Both are so-called greenhouse gases (GHG.) CO2 is truly a greenhouse gas in the sense that farmers enrich their greenhouse environments with it in order to stimulate plant growth and increase yield.

Without CO2, breads wouldn’t rise, sparkling wine wouldn’t sparkle, beer would be flat, and compressed-air tools (not actually air, but CO2) would cost a lot more to run. Oh and by the way, all green plants (on land and in the seas) would die causing mass starvation for herbivores and humans alike.

Ironically enough, the automobile industry is considering CO2 as a replacement for HFCs in “sustainable” air conditioning systems.

Carbon footprint, carbon pollution, carbon sequestration… are all terms designed to blur the line between that which can help save the people of this planet, and that which can seriously affect the well-being of those same people.

All issues regarding the environment can be seen as being extremely self-centered. We do not do that which is best for the planet’s systems in the long term; we do that which is in our best short-term interest.

If global CO2 levels are cut by half (as the IPCC recommends,) plants will produce much less food and much less oxygen. The atmosphere has about 400 ppm CO2 at present, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) target is 200 ppm, and Bill Gates (whose father was the head of Planned Parenthood) wants it at zero. Plants start to die very quickly when CO2 levels get below 150 ppm. Plants do best and produce the best yields at about 2000 ppm, five times the CO2 levels we have today. The truth is that if one looks back six-hundred million years, global CO2 levels have only very rarely been below 400 ppm. It has also only very rarely ever been so cold as it is now. Since temperatures have been flat for the last 18 years, we can expect global temperatures to go down in the near future (next couple of thousand years), but trend upward for a longer overall period (next sixty or so thousand years.) Moreover, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Now how is it that this last year was the warmest on record, and the one before, and the one before? It is simple, really. The average temperatures were within the margin of error of the tests. Temperatures are difficult to measure adequately and methodologies are not well standardized. All the results were basically tied, but with a nudge here and a wink there, an order is established. It is as though we rank the results of a group of sprinters who have all just run the hundred within one tenth of a second of each other when the starter takes two tenths of a second to push the button.

Some basic facts about CO2 concentrations:

70,000-100,000ppm (unconsciousness within an hour)

7000-8000ppm (earth’s historic high)

10,000ppm (insects die)

5000ppm (US Occupational CO2 exposure limits – 8 hrs.)

5000ppm (headaches)

3000-4000ppm (poorly ventilated indoor spaces)

2000-2500ppm (well ventilated indoor spaces)

2000-2500ppm (Jurassic era levels)

800-4000ppm (optimal greenhouse targets)

360 – 410ppm (earth’s atmosphere today)

250ppm (earth’s historic low)

200ppm (IPCC target level)

150ppm (level under which plants die)

0ppm (where Bill Gates wants it)

Between 1960 and 2000, the concentration of global CO2 has increased by about 2ppm per year. Rising temperatures tend to precede a rise in CO2 levels and not the other way around, as is often presented.

Despite the fact that there is no value which represents the average global temperature for any given year, a rough estimate is about 57 °F or 14 °C. The sea surface average is roughly 61 °F or 16 °C.

How to convert ppm (parts per million)* to percentage:

If 1,000,000 = 100%

100,000 = 10%

10,000 = 1%

1000 = 0.1%

100 = 0.01%

400 = 0.04% This is to say that 0.04% of our atmosphere is CO2.

Many people have gotten the above calculation wrong. I have myself heard a man who is an engineer, a politician, and an internet personality claim this value to be 0.0004%. Scientists can make mistakes and politicians can be fooled.

There is a notion that if we have broken something, then surely we can fix it. There is another notion that if we haven’t witnessed something by now, it must be abnormal. Our time line is skewed when compared to that of the atmosphere. What we perceive as sea-change may be just a small part of a much longer and repetitive cycle. The following graph disputes the notion of a positive feedback loop as the mechanism which could reverse this process in the cycle is unknown. After all, runaway warming is blamed for the conditions on Venus. Why has this not happened on Earth? What has kept these oscillations in check? My suspicion is that life itself is self-regulating.


N.B. the time scale goes from right (older) to left (recent)

The above graph shows us at a point in the natural cycle of ice formation. We have indeed gone through a period of gradual warming and now stand near the maximum. The last half century may well have been the warmest on record, but it is a small part of a natural cycle of glaciation. Not to mention that the totality of the record only goes back some 150 years which, geologically speaking, is not even worth mentioning.

There are consequences to our actions and our inaction. Either we make things happen or they happen to us.

We are often faced with the absurd argument that if we do nothing now, it may be too late to do anything later; that somehow, global warming will get away from us. The danger with this fallacy is that any adjustment we now make to the biology of the planet, given our limited knowledge of both biology and complex systems, could be disastrous for the organic earth. How many times have humans introduced a new species into a habitat with unintended (and ruinous) consequences? The earth has always balanced itself chemically, and humans have always balanced their populations based on the amount of food available.

“Carbon pollution” is a misnomer. We are carbon-based life forms, after all.

If global CO2 levels drop to zero, people would not even notice any difference in the air. Plants, on the other hand, would starve. Since CO2 can be controlled, indoor farms could be made to contain normal concentrations of it even if the natural level was at zero. This would mean that if the global level did go to zero, despite mass starvation, there would still be survivors… wealthy survivors.

* The correct nomenclature is ppm/v (parts per million per volume.) Ppm is used for brevity.


2 thoughts on “Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Do You Know the Difference?

  1. Wow.
    Knowing this, if I was rich and evil enough, I’d probably want to buy all the carbon dioxide that’s left.
    Hmm, I’d need some kind of ‘carbon market’ to be able to do that…
    Hey, wait a minute!

Comments are closed.