We Call it Life

Ridiculous though they may be, there is something to be learned from these Pro-CO2 advertisements from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The ads make a simple logical claim:

  1. Premise: CO2 emissions result from all kinds of processes on Earth, like animals exhaling and the burning of fossil fuels for energy, which shows that CO2 is healthy, natural, and safe
  2. Premise: The burning of fossil fuels for energy has “freed us from backbreaking labor” by changing the way humans perform labor
  3. Conclusion: Curbing CO2 emissions would impose a burden on humanity (Premise 2) for no good reason (Premise 1)

This conclusion leads to a hilarious tagline: “They call it pollution. We call it life.”

Before I get into eviscerating this logical argument, it’s worth noting that the Competitive Enterprise Institute receives a portion of its funding from ExxonMobil and other companies, as described here.

Here is how the Washington Post describes the advertisements:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group that reflects the Bush administration’s free-market approach, unveiled a TV ad campaign this week that denounced efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions as unwarranted.

The Post’s phrasing conceals the true inanity of the CEI ads. The logical argument fails because Premise 1, above, is not true. It sidesteps the matter of atmospheric chemistry by making the childish assertion that anything we breathe out must be good for the planet. An atmosphere composed entirely of CO2 would kill all animals on the planet’s surface immediately. This fact alone refutes Premise 1.

Obviously, the CEI is being disingenuous here. Their argument is really more like, “It would be hard and unpleasant to change the way we produce energy, so let’s not do it” Call it the argument from laziness. If this is the best the polluting industries of the world can do, maybe there is hope for comprehensive environmental action yet.

[tags]Environment, Global Warming[/tags]

5 Replies to “We Call it Life”

  1. Walrus:

    You have restated CEI’s position as an invalid syllogism and then attacked your own restatement as invalid. Bravo! Why not deal with the actual point made by the CEI? The use of fossil fuels has lead to remarkable economic growth that has allowed the West to improve both the enviornment and the lives of average citizens. Furthermore, the evidence of global warming is, at best, problematic.

    Wadard echoes your lampoon of global warming skeptics but neither of you offer an alternative. Since you both agree that it “would be hard and painful” to change our present dependence on carbon based fuels, are you advocating greater reliance on nuclear energy? Or are you advocating scarcity and consequent economic decline? Please advise.

  2. Patrick,

    Let’s put aside any question of global warming for a moment. The CEI advertisements dealt with CO2, and specifically made the claim that it is a compund that is part of the cycle of life. This is no doubt true. It also made the claim that using fossil fuels has made human lives more comfortable and productive, which is also no doubt true. The problem arises when they try to sidestep any question of the advisability of limitless CO2 emissions by invoking the fact of CO2’s involvement in the cycle of life.

    There are many compounds involved in living organisms. The relevant question is: should we assume that changing the constitution of our atmosphere is always fine provided the compounds involved are related to living things?

    As for the question of what I am advising, it is simply this: to ensure that our home planet remain healthy and inhabitable, and then to do our best to enhance the lives of the humans that live on it. It is a fact that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been rising, and it is worth looking into the reasons and possible consequences to ensure that all is well.

    I am sure that we can find sources of energy that do not release as much CO2 (clean coal, solar, wind, nuclear) while we study the question. I am a great believer in American ingenuity and creativity. The CEI does nothing to promote these virtues with their simplistic ads.

  3. The mere fact that you are connecting the dots between liberalism and walruses is an outrageous endeavor. Walruses have nothing to do with being a liberal. I am a full fledged republican, who also happens to find a fascination with walruses ever since the 5th grade.

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