Ted Cruz Knows 1 Thing About the Carbon Cycle

Ted Cruz appears to have a vague notion of the carbon cycle in this tweet. It is indeed true that humans breathe out CO2 and that plants consume it. But, of course, he’s trying to use this to say that CO2 is no problem in the atmosphere. This I suppose is a step up from the notion that humans create CO2 — an issue that I’ve dealt with before, Humans Do Not Create CO2.

So Cruz seems to be aware that the carbon atom is just being swaps from animals to plants and back again. But if this is all that is happening, then why is it that CO2 levels have gone up over 20% since 1960? I mean, this is not one of those cases where Ted Cruz can pick one early high year and claim it is actually going down. Temperatures are highly variable, but CO2 stays in the atmosphere so long that its concentrations are very smooth. Here is the CO2 concentration as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory over the last six decades. (The squiggling is the annual cycle.)

CO2 Mauna Loa - Carbon Cycle

So if animals (not just humans) are swapping all this CO2 back and forth, why is it that the level of CO2 just keeps going up? That would be a good question for Ted Cruz and all of the rest of the anti-science conservatives. Even if they know, they would not be keen to admit it. You see, there is lots of carbon that is in the ground. While it is in the ground, it shockingly doesn’t have an effect on the atmosphere. But once it is released from the ground, it interacts with animals and gets turned into CO2 — eventually. And so we get to the atmospheric carbon cycle.

Now most of this is just plants taking it out of the ground. But that is just more of the carbon cycle. And it is ridiculously complicated. Animals eat plants (directly or indirectly) and use the carbon to build their bodies. Part of living is taking in oxygen and breathing out CO2. The plants take the CO2 back in. And when the plants die, they get buried and the carbon is sequestered. The same thing happens to the animals, of course. This is all be very simple stuff that should be taught to all children by the time they finish grammar school.

The Deeper Carbon Cycle

What’s more interesting is what happens to stuff that gets buried. That carbon still reacts with its environment. But in general, those reactions will be anaerobic — without oxygen. And so that carbon, under the right conditions, turns into hydrocarbons. And we have been busy over the last two centuries, pulling those hydrocarbons out of the ground and burning them, thus releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. And that is why the concentration of CO2 at the Mauna Loa observatory is so much higher today than it was in 1950.

Now I know: this is all kind of complicated and very science-y. It’s much easier to say, “CO2 is what every human breathes out; every plant, in turn,consumes CO2.” And if you are an incurious person — or just a demagogue — that’s where you stop. But it offends me. If Ted Cruz wants to deny science, fine; that’s his right. But I wish he wouldn’t use some minor bit of science to justify his science denial. Science isn’t about saying, “I know one thing, so let’s stop talking.” The carbon cycle is a beautiful thing. Ted Cruz is a great symbol of everything that is ugly about humanity.

25 thoughts on “Ted Cruz Knows 1 Thing About the Carbon Cycle

  1. It has o do with two unexamined faiths, I think. One — the minor faith — is that some benevolent God won’t let us destroy the world (and if He does, it was time for the world to be destroyed after all, day of judgment, sort them out, etc.) The much larger faith is that service of power is a moral good. Either power will find a way to mitigate climate change (inventions!) or it’ll turn out this was never a threat after all.

    Since American society has essentially devolved into a kind of “win by turning your neighbor in to Stasi” system, where at the highest and lowest levels the best rewards go to those who serve power, I suspect more people are convinced power is morally right then are convinced God will save us.

      • It seems to be common these days. A belief that the all-powerful entity which summoned our incomprehensibly vast universe into existence through sheer thought has one thing on Its mind. Namely, making sure taxes and policies don’t inconvenience rich mortals for any portion of their brief lifespan. If you ask me, God’s work has really fallen off since Its early material. And It hasn’t published a new Book in ages! (Ok, the Book of Mormon was only a few hundred years ago, but still. Who does It think It is? J.D. Friggin’ Salinger?)

    • “The much larger faith is that service of power is a moral good.” This dovetails with a thesis I’ve been developing, that increasingly people are rejecting democratic ideals for a royalist one. The good is not benevolence, kindness, open-mindedness or those sorts of things, but following the right man. The modern ethos of goodness, where you are good or not based on your treatment and consideration of others, maybe is disappearing in favour of a much older, tribalist one.

      I hope I’m wrong.

      • I think you’re right. I’d only add that it’s not the right “man” so much as the right power structure or lifestyle. If, say, you graduated with a law degree in 1990 and made a mint doing corporate law, you are Good. If you graduated from a law school last year and are having trouble finding a job to pay your student debt in a saturated job market, you are Bad.

        But essentially you’ve nailed it. Someone who chooses to teach special-needs kids for a public school is no longer considered honorable or worthy of emulation. After the crazies bombed New York in 2001, we had a brief period of idolizing self-sacrificing individuals like firefighters, yet that soon ended (we don’t even pay for their health-care bills.) The only “service” professions considered honorable are the military and police forces, and it’s no accident both of them protect power. (While Republicans cut union pay for cops and put soldiers in harm’s way for useless reasons.)

        I think it is a devolution away from democracy. Based (not entirely incorrectly) on the fear that you can treat others with all the consideration you have and this, plus two quarters, will get you fifty cents.

        What’s really odd is this isn’t easy to do. You have to sell people on the notion that blind self-interest is truly the most moral position. No corporate human-services hitperson will ever say “I’m bettering my career by denying benefits and firing workers who complain,” not even as pillow talk. It’ll be “we need to focus on the team members who further our goal of customer service” or some such.

        Most people don’t want to feel evil, only a handful of maladjusted ones. So serving the “tribe” (as you aptly put it) substitutes for serving a democratic community. The “tribe” can be a group identification like fundamentalist religion or the Right Patriots or members of your hopeful social class or whatever; the key is that there’s nothing about this service which isn’t self-centered and self-adulatory, both.

        And, most importantly, screwing over anyone who isn’t a member of your tribe is not only acceptable but admirable.

        • That’s not right, Mr. Fillmore, you were supposed to tell me that I’m being a paranoid freak and that I should lighten up. Thanks guy; made my day.

          • You’re not paranoid — but it never hurts any of us to lighten up. I’m trying to get into baseball season. Haven’t yet, but I’m hoping I will, because I definitely need to lighten up!

    • There is this belief that all threats are really nothing. People say that about the Y2K bug. But that turned out to be nothing because of all the work that was done to fix it. And you can say that about a lot of things — especially in the environment. But people don’t pay attention.

      One of the most edifying things in Listen, Liberal is his discussion of how all Clinton’s work to move the Democratic Party to the right — on crime, welfare, economics — hasn’t changed how the party is seen at all. I’ve written about the fact that my conservative father and his incredibly conservative girlfriend were unaware in 2008 that the federal budget was balanced under Clinton. My father still thinks AFDC exists. It doesn’t matter: people don’t pay attention. The Democratic Party will always be the “far left” party as long as it is to the left of the Republican Party.

  2. God bless America. This guy probably could have won 12 years ago, that’s the scary thing. Moral, intellectual dwarf.

    Guy’s a perfect illustration of your signature theses, Frank (as if I have to tell you!). The Rep’s run lunatic barbarians because the Dem’s run centre-right liberals because the Rep’s run lunatic barbarians.

    We’re fucked, exhibit #13 207.

    • Right. (Of course.) As I just commented to James, there’s no move to the right that the Democrats can make that will win them any votes; it just shifts the whole political landscape to the right. Of course, that’s exactly what the DLC wanted.

  3. The odd thing is, just about everybody agrees that Ted Cruz is really really exceptionally bright — look at the systematic way he’s taking over the delegate selection process for the Republican convention as an example. So he probably knows the arguments for human-caused global warming as well as any climate scientist, can probably recite them in his sleep.

    So trying to educate him, to change his opinions, to convert him to Light and Harmony and Justice and so on, is wasted effort. Maybe he really understands the issues, but isn’t emotionally concerned, and deliberately denies thee likelihood of global warming for the sake of getting votes from people who are much less educated.

    Or maybe– this is what worries me — he simply views scientific knowledge as akin to the law. Should we let Moslems immigrate to the USA? Well you can debate for it and against it, but what counts is what laws have been passed. Should we permit polygamy in our society? That depends on what laws people pass. Should we execute minors for small dug offenses? Well, if that’s what the laws prescribe, the case is clear. Should we worry about global warming? Well, if you pass laws about it, it’s an issue, and if you don’t, it’s not an issue. I suspect this kind of reasoning will make scientists and engineers barf; I suspect lawyers will see it as reasonable and straightforward. ACK!!!!

    • Mr. Shupp, I think your last paragraph is exactly it since Cruz is not simply an idiot. I think lawyers in general deserve a little more credit though.

      It’s maybe even more thoroughgoing than you suggest. There is a possibility of holding a quite postmodern attitude to scientific findings themselves. Like Rorty’s claim that ‘knowledge’ is what you can get away with saying. Just competing conversations. We are free to go with whatever scientific ‘findings’ promote our kind.

    • Mike, I see little evidence to suggest that Cruz is a postmodern thinker, but knowing anyone’s actual motivations and beliefs is an elusive goal. Here are some of the things we do know about Cruz, as you stated he is intelligent, he is a highly skilled debater, he chose to study law, he chose politics as his profession, and he has created a successful political organization. I believe that it is a mistake to confuse his use of sophistry, in the classical sense, with his beliefs. Using whatever argument works to win the debate, does not mean that he isn’t emotionally concerned, or that his arguments reflect his personal beliefs. To me he simply appears to be a pragmatist, and it’s too early for us to know his long term goals.

      • He’s not postmodern! He’s strictly in the utilitarian camp of Mill and Rawls. He just accepts the anti-utilitarian criticisms which have been around for decades (all human interactions will be reduced to their usefulness) without realizing they apply to his pro-business worldview just as heartlessly (if not more) than they applied to Soviet central planning.

        • Rawls??? I dunno man. Perhaps I am not right to think he can’t separate views from discourse, but I really don’t think there is any coherent, rationally and ethically defensible view in there, regardless of the truth or otherwise of my speculation.

          Rawls is an egalitarian, and not a utilitarian. If his views were followed, there would be no drone strikes in Pakistan, no massive Wall Street influence, no crumbling infrastructure, no mass politics of hatred.

          Mill was a socialist. He wasn’t very consistent in his professional and philosophical life. But I look at Cruz and see, not just the opposite of Rawls and Mill, but the opposite of any view that can withstand moral and rational criticism. With very few exceptions, modern philosophers have not endorsed abridging the rights and immunities of minorities, or immiserating the majority. Not counting that princess of darkness who named herself after a typewriter.

          • Sorry — I typed faster than I was thinking (we’ve all done it!)

            Of course I wasn’t comparing Cruz morally or intellectually to Rawls or Mill; they were original thinkers and Cruz’s ilk are mere opportunists. What I meant by their utilitarianism is both Mill and Rawls not only argued for the morality of greater equality but for the practical benefits as well.

            Old-school conservatives like Burke argued almost solely for the morality of inequality. Better, to them, that we live in a society with great suffering than one in which human lives are improved but the “right” people are no longer in charge, protecting all that is noble and good about civilization from the unwashed hordes. Fine art, great innovations, these come from privilege; an equitable society may be better for most yet will lack the intellectual heights aristocratic eras achieved (supposedly.)

            Starting with the rise of modern (Reagan, Friedman) conservatism, the morality argument shares time with a practical, utilitarian one. Yes, God wants the rich to be powerful. Just as important though is that the rich are better at running things. You don’t want to stand in line for toilet paper like they do in Russia, do you? So we need underpaid workers at Wal-Marts. Our high standard of living had nothing to do with workers (consumers) having more money and everything to do with the genius of greed and creative destruction.

            So what I meant by utilitarianism is that modern conservatives have a very pragmatic ideal society; one in which fear and insecurity drive the unworthy poor to work their butts off, which benefits the rich. And that same fear/insecurity compels the “best” of the poor to become rich themselves.

            In the minds of the far right, the success of European-style socialism, where one can be quite comfortable as a house painter and afford a nice home and four weeks vacation a year, cannot be sustainable. It must be a fluke.

            So I consider new conservatives to be akin to original thinkers like Mill, Rawls (or Paine) in that they argue not just for the morality but also the efficacy of their ideal society. The difference, naturally, is that those great liberal thinkers were countering the accepted wisdom of their time, whereas modern conservatives are merely going blithely along with accepted dogma. And that’s why I wouldn’t call today’s conservatism “postmodern.” To me, postmodernism is accepting that there is no established truth, only varying perspectives. Conservatives today insist on one truth which must be the only way to run the world; any evidence of other ideas being successful is dismissed. Paine, Mill, and Rawls were far more postmodern than conservatives today. Conservatives are pre-modern in their Machiavellian insistence on power, subjugation, and absolute fealty to the ruling clan — kinda what you were mentioning.

            Hope that makes more sense. These are complicated matters and my thinking isn’t always up to speed!

            • Are you sure it wouldn’t be better just to say that unlike the New Democrats, the elephants are ideological? I think you are overestimating the coherence of their views.

              And I suppose that those old-line conservatives never imagined a world in which all could share in a secure lifestyle. Perhaps they were rationally justified, before modem technology.

              • You’re probably right. I’m on a lot of painkillers lately and I can feel them turning my mind into macaroni.

      • Ummm. . . it doesn’t speak well of a democracy or a candidate that voters cannot guess the true views of that candidate on serious issues. In fact, it sounds like a definition of demagoguery, which says to me that Ted Cruz would not be a good person to vote into office even if I loved and adored his professed opinions — which I don’t.

        Apropos of nothing, are you the Mark Ulrich I knew at MIT about 50 years ago?

        • Other than Bernie, can you name a candidate who you believe states his or her true views consistently. For some of the candidates there is a record of actions in an executive position, and this record can be used to estimate how the candidate will act in the future, but for Cruz, as it was for Obama, his record is mostly getting elected, so we don’t have a lot to go on when predicting how he would behave as President. Knowing a President’s true views is difficult even after 7 years, did Obama believe it when he said he would have an open Presidency, or was he hiding his true views? And, even if Bernie means what he says, do you think he could take effective action on his views?

          Yes, I am that MIT student from about 50 years ago. One of your comments is what led me to this web site. Next time I am in the Bay area we should get together.

          Congratulations on your Destiny Makers series, I enjoyed reading it. It’s not often that you get to read a series of 5 novels that begins in your MIT dorm.

          • You make a good point. Still, it’s troubling that it’s so damned easy to wonder if Cruz’s actual and professed views coincide, Usually candidates get the benefit of the doubt is my impression — possibly I’m just giving in to cynicism in my old age.

            Oh hell, I should have gone into politics myself I suppose. I can trust me! Even if some of my own opinions have changed over the years . . . And if you find yourself in the Bay area sometime, a Macdonalds will do — my tastes still run to hamburgers and shakes. And for reference, my email address is mikeshupp030@gmail.com.. I keep intending to set up something proper at LinkedIn, and it never happens.

        • I meant to comment on your reference to demagoguery. I think, at least in recent times, that politician and demagogue have become synonyms, and statesmen just aren’t in fashion. Today’s feature article in Scientific American illustrates the demagoguery of politicians quite well. In the article “The Science Behind the DEA’s Long War on Marijuana”, Nixon is quoted, from one of those recordings, in explaining why marijuana should be classified as Schedule 1 in order to destroy the anti-war left, ‘ “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana,” Nixon said in tapes from 1971. “Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, domestic council? … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.” ‘ From the same article here’s a John Ehrlichman statement from 1994 “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    • Cruz is much more dangerous than Trump because he is very intelligent. He does know what he says is nonsense.

      But he also is so evil that it literally spews out of him so no one likes him except from a distance or if they are slightly brimstoned themselves. Even his own kids don’t like him.

    • I think he is literally a demagogue. I don’t just call everyone I don’t like that. I think he doesn’t care what the truth is. It’s all about his personal power. His claim that the earth cooled over 17 years wasn’t just him being ignorant. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to appeal to the people he needs to appeal to in order to gain power. He’s a vile man. If Hitler were alive in America today, he would be Ted Cruz.

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