This week I was at the 9th DOE conference on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) in Pittsburgh. One of the speakers, Paal Frisvold of the NGO Bellona Foundation, asked for a show of hands as to who thought climate change was a major problem (maybe half) and how many thought that anthropogenic CO2 was a cause (less than half). And this was at a CCS meeting!
I have written elsewhere in this blog about my worldview of carbon dioxide (CO2).
At the 2010 OTC in Houston, I gave an overview talk on CCS. Part of the discussion is on point with this topic. The CO2 chain of effect is shown in the diagram below. Burning fossil fuel generates energy, water, and CO2. This is chemistry and cannot be refuted. Furthermore, there is direct, tangible evidence that atmospheric CO2 levels are tracking fossil fuel combustion.
The primary effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 is typically given as 'climate change', specifically global temperature increase (global warming). But as the diagram shows, anthropogenic CO2 is competing with many other climate change drivers, including the natural CO2 cycle. Although there is good scientific evidence for connecting atmospheric CO2 and global temperature, it is a confusing and ambiguous argument for public consumption. Global warming is easy ridicule, since much of the world population experiences a significant winter season every year. A global rise of 0.5 degrees C is alarming to researchers, but undetectable in everyday life.
A more direct effect of human CO2 emission is acidity of the ocean. As atmospheric CO2 rises, uptake by the ocean increases, forming a weak acid and lowering the ocean PH. Unlike climate change where there will be winners and losers, increasing global PH disrupts food chains and thus affects everyone on the planet.
In my opinion, ocean acidification -- rather than global warming -- should be the primary public message and motivation for CO2 emissions reduction.