Christopher Reddy, an associate scientist and director of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, asks "What if carbon dioxide were as black as oil?" in a great new article on CNN.com. This is a very thought provoking question and well considered by Reddy. In his article, Reddy compares and contrasts American concern for, and understanding of, the Gulf Oil spill with the larger threat of carbon dioxide:
...while we have readily and rightfully committed ourselves to understanding the cause of the spill, its effects and how to help restore the affected Gulf Coast region, we still can't seem to come to grips with a much more dangerous, far-reaching pollutant that is changing the fundamental chemistry of our entire planet: carbon dioxide.
Why the difference in concern? Is it as simple as out of sight, out of mind?
We can see oil discoloring the ocean, blackening coastlines and covering wildlife, but carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless. We don't see it, and there's no video or sound bites, so it's easier to deny.
CNN and other media outlets do not stream figures about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. But it has been spewing steadily and increasingly for decades throughout our planet from power plants, factories and our cars and homes.
Can you imagine if black smoke spewed from tailpipes? If smog over cities was not just a hazy brown, but a black shadow? I'm intrigued and terrified by the possibilities of this vision. If carbon dioxide were more visible, and 'in-mind,' would people be more apt to make changes in their life? Reddy reflects on that too:
Would we care more if we could see the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide being absorbed into our oceans, making seawater more acidic, endangering coral reefs and marine life and threatening to fundamentally disrupt ocean ecosystems and food webs?
Perhaps we ignore carbon dioxide because it's hard for us to think long-term and connect the dots. The consequences of oil spills are immediate; the causes and effects are obvious. Not so with carbon dioxide; its consequences are incremental, insidious and irreversible for centuries to millennia.
Even if we acknowledge the problem, there's still the hurdle of doing something about it. It's almost the same as asking, "If smokers could see their damaged lungs, would they quit more easily?"
Reddy asks a lot of good questions. See his full article here.
Image: Los Angeles, CA skyline under dark smog. Original image courtesy of Flickr photographer photos_mweber under the Creative Commons License. Digital darkening of the smog line, recoloring, and image cropping by me.
A couple of years ago there was a local TV ad campaign (Go ogle: 'CO2 black balloons ad') that sought to raise awareness of CO2 emissions by showing masses of black balloons seeping out of cars and household appliances before escaping into the sky.
I suspect most people dismissed it as just another ad campaign.