Often Wrong, Never in Doubt
Rep. John Boehner, the top-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, was on ABC’s This Week on Sunday and managed to say so many factually wrong things in the course of a single minute that I was kinda stunned.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That’s my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?
BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it’s clear…
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t believe that greenhouse gases are a problem in creating climate change?
BOEHNER: … we’ve had climate change over the last 100 years — listen, it’s clear we’ve had change in our climate. The question is how much does man have to do with it, and what is the proper way to deal with this?
Where to begin?
- Boehner indicates that the problem people have with carbon dioxide emissions is that they fear CO2 is a “carcinogen”. Boehner appears not to understand what “carcinogen” means — a carcinogen is something that causes cancer, which nobody claims CO2 does. The reason people are worried about CO2 emissions is because they’re afraid those emissions will raise the global temperature level by trapping heat inside the atmosphere — which is why CO2 is called a “greenhouse gas“. Cancer has nothing to do with it.
- Next, he argues that CO2 isn’t bad because we’ve lived with it for as long as humans have been breathing: “every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide”. It’s true that CO2 isn’t inherently bad, but nobody’s suggesting that; what they’re suggesting is that excessive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere — amounts far higher than those we’ve lived with in the past, thanks to massive industrial emissions — are bad, which is a different question altogether. Think of it like this — is water bad? If you’re drinking a glass of it, no; but if I pour gallons of it straight down your throat, you’ll die. Water in and of itself is not bad, but too much water is very bad indeed.
- Finally, he suggests that cow flatulence is a source of carbon dioxide, which it isn’t; cows fart methane, not CO2. Methane is also a greenhouse gas, so it’s almost understandable why you would mention cow flatulence in this discussion, but Boehner directly and specifically attributes increased CO2 levels (not general greenhouse-gas levels) to said flatulence, which is not correct.
All these weird assertions would be easier to take if they were being spouted by some random person on the street, but John Boehner is the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, which means his opinions have a direct bearing on climate policy in this country.
And yet, he appears to not even understand the most basic facts on the subject — stuff that we routinely expect junior high school kids to grasp.