A breathtaking gibe


A breathtaking quote from former Governor Schwarzenegger at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday:

Schwarzenegger got off some good gibes to win the crowd over.

Speaking of greenhouse gas deniers: “Strap some conservative-thinking people to a tailpipe for an hour and then they will agree it’s a pollutant!”

I know this is used just as a catch phrase, but it is very misleading nevertheless. Let me explain why.

Some initial thoughts

When inhaling car exhaust gases, CO2 is the least of our worries. There are other components in exhaust gases that have much more negative effects. Most importantly is what is NOT there: oxygen. It is used for the combustion, so there will be not much to none in the exhaust gases while we need at minimum 18%. That wouldn’t be a pleasant ride.

Another dangerous component in exhaust gases is CO (Carbon Monoxide). It is a lethal substance even in a low concentration. CO has the ability to bind more than 240 times better to hemoglobin than oxygen. Hemoglobin is the substance in our red blood cells that carry the oxygen absorbed via the lungs around the body to the cells that need it. This means that even with a small concentration of the gas, relatively large amount of CO will bind with hemoglobin and come into the bloodstream. In the end, the person will suffer from an oxygen deprivation (too many CO has taken the place of oxygen). This process in not easily reversed. A treatment for CO-intoxication is inhaling a high concentration of oxygen under high pressure, to slowly reverse the strong bond of CO with the hemoglobin. People who die from inhaling car exhaust gases are called to die from CO-intoxication intoxication for a reason. They don’t call it a CO2-intoxication although they inhaled a much higher concentration of CO2 than CO.

More specific

CO2 and exhaust gases are used as synonyms. The assumption is made that the effects of the tailpipe are due to CO2. This is not true at all. If there was more oxygen and less CO in the exhaust gases, than the effects would be from the CO2, but in reality most of the negative effects would from other things than CO2.

CO2 is called a pollutant that effects us humans in a bad way. Sure, in exhaust gases it is about 14% and by displacing oxygen it will make this lethal if sustained. But in reality the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is only 0,04% (coming from 0.03%). That’s a HUUUUUGE difference from where it becomes harmful.

Pollutant is a relative term. CO2 is essential for life and in the current concentration harmless to our health. Even if we double or triple it, it doesn’t come anywhere near harmful levels. In fact we thank a lot on CO2. No plants → no humans. More CO2 → more biomass (farmers know this and use it to their advantage).

I don’t know if it were Schwarzenegger’s words or from the reporter, but what are “greenhouse gas deniers”? That doesn’t make much sense. For the record: I don’t think this does mean those people deny that there are greenhouse gases. It probably means that those people don’t believe in the (catastrophic) effects of the (human portion of the) increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.


Strapping someone to a tailpipe to let him experience something first hand is a powerful emotional image, but it misses the purpose completely. The experience wouldn’t learn that “conservative-thinking” person anything about the alleged charge that CO2 is a pollutant.

So let us look at it as an emotional message constructed to win over the crowd, but that has nothing to do with reality whatsoever.


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