2010-11-11 16:53:28Basic Rebuttal 42: CO2 isn't a pollutant


Most people intuitively understand what pollution is. Furthermore, a substance that causes pollution is called a pollutant. Although many substances are either a pollutant or they aren't, some can paradoxically be both: it all depends on context. 

No-one, for example, would argue against the fact that nitrogen is an essential nutrient for crops, yet too much of it (through agricultural runoff and fossil-fuel burning) can deplete oceans of oxygen and cause other harmful effects on ecosystems. 

A similar line of reasoning can be brought to CO2. It's essential for life - keeping the planet from freezing, growing plants etc - yet too much can upset the Earth's natural balance and cause ocean acidification and global warming.

2010-11-23 05:34:07
Paul D


My Concise Oxford Dictionary (1989) says:

 Pollute: "destroy the purity or sanctity of; make foul or filthy; contaminate or defile (man's environment)"

Or Compact English Oxford Dictionary (2008) says:

Pollutant: "a substance that creates unpleasant or harmful effects in the air, soil or water"


 I would say that the 2008 definition is less helpful than the 1989 one??

But neither really address the wider context of the word, which can include light pollution, noise pollution.
Someone working in a specialised field may refer to a pollutant messing up an experiment or a production process, which has nothing to do with air, soil or water.

Ah, the fun of language and the evolution of word use.

2010-11-23 08:46:13

too true... consider also the word 'weed' for instance.
2010-12-06 06:46:29Simple analogy to the good/bad(pollutant) 'paradox'.


Steve, I've got a suggestion.

As an analogy, you can lead the reader back to the 19th century, when horse dung was a major pollutant in the cities due to its effects on breeding diseases. Nevertheless it was a beneficial thing on the farm where it was used as fertilizer.


I believe this analogy would be much better that the other ones since it presents itself, in the mind of the basic level reader, as a concrete down to earth example; compared to using gases. While weeds are easily visualized by the reader, he is unlikely to care about any benefits they have to offer in a natural environment.

The horse dung analogy, however, makes an impression on the reader by emphasizing the repugnant and yet beneficial aspects of the same substance. By making the analogy visceral you wake up the mind of the reader.

You can also use medicine as an analogy. For example, "If the doctor tells you to take X amount of medicine will taking 4 times as much make you feel better 4 times as fast?".

A short statement for describing CO2 as both beneficial but potentially dangerous would be, "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.".

By the way, "pollution" was the actual word used to refer to horse dung in the 19th century.

2010-12-10 12:32:41


thanks villabolo - you may be right, so i'll definitely give it some more considered thought.

my first reaction, however, is that the nitrogen example that i've used (not weeds BTW) is a good one. willing to let other peeps chip in with their thoughts though.

2010-12-21 17:08:40Ready to go
James Wight


I’m happy with the nitrogen example. The horse dung analogy would be good too though.

2011-01-01 06:55:27Horse dung revisited.


Not that I'm insisting on my analogy; both analogies are equally good from a logical point of view. However, considering that this is a basic level rebuttal, the horse dung analogy is more concrete, more attention getting compared to fertilizer; an analogy that might leave an impression on farmers but not the general public. I believe it would be better from a psychological point of view which, in this battle, cannot be underestimated.

If you're going to use the nitrogen analogy I believe you should insert the word fertilizer in your sentence below since most people do not know that fertilizer is nitrogenous. For example:

"No-one, for example, would argue against the fact that nitrogen  is an essential nutrient for crops, yet too much of it (through agricultural runoff ...)..."