Is Water A Pollutant?

Water and carbon dioxide are life-giving chemical compounds. Life, on Earth, could not exist without these compounds. What else do they have in common? Well, both are also byproducts of mankind’s fossil-fuel energy production. For example, a gasoline internal combustion engine produces exhaust comprised of 71% nitrogen, 14% carbon dioxide, 12% water vapor; with the remaining 3% consisting of trace gases. Coal, natural gas, and petroleum-burning power plants also emit both carbon dioxide and water vapor. So, if bureaucrats, environmentalists, politicians and scientists want to deem—and properly so—the aforementioned carbon dioxide emissions as “manmade” then water-vapor emissions must be deemed manmade as well. What else do these two compounds have in common? Both carbon dioxide and water vapor are greenhouse gases. Humankind, therefore, is emitting the greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide and water vapor into Earth’s atmosphere. Yet, and here is where these two life-giving compounds part company; carbon dioxide has been classified as a pollutant, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while water has not. Hence, this begs the question: Is water a pollutant?

With regard to classifying carbon dioxide as a pollutant, the EPA pulls no punches. Here is this agency’s position: Heaven and Earth: Glob... Ian Plimer Best Price: $2.99 Buy New $5.39 (as of 01:30 EST - Details)

In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 84% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA plainly states on its website: “Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases.” To be sure, the EPA is most interested in manmade greenhouse-gas emissions and lists the following gases of concern:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Fluorinated gases

I find it interesting that water vapor is not included in the EPA’s list. Water vapor, after all, is both a greenhouse gas and an emission from fossil-fuel power plants and gasoline internal combustion engines. Is it not on this list because water vapor is a greenhouse gas of minor importance?

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This question can be laid to rest when looking at the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and the nature of water vapor as a greenhouse gas. First of all, by volume, “…dry air contains 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1% at sea level, and 0.4% over the entire atmosphere.” Accordingly, there is 10-times more water vapor, than carbon dioxide, in Earth’s atmosphere. With respect to water vapor, the kicker here can be found in Wikipedia: “Being a component of Earth’s hydrosphere and hydrologic cycle, it is particularly abundant in Earth’s atmosphere where it is also a potent greenhouse gas along with other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.”  Richard Lindzen, an MIT Professor of Meteorology, puts into perspective the potency of water vapor as a greenhouse gas. Dr. Lindzen wrote: “The main absorbers of infrared in the atmosphere are water vapor and clouds. Even if all other greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) were to disappear, we would still be left with over 98 percent of the current greenhouse effect.”  One would believe, therefore, that climate-change alarmists would take a keen interest in manmade water- vapor emissions.

In light of Dr. Lindzen’s commentary, let’s see what the EPA has to say about water vapor:

Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas and also the most important in terms of its contribution to the natural greenhouse effect, despite having a short atmospheric lifetime. Some human activities can influence local water vapor levels. However, on a global scale, the concentration of water vapor is controlled by temperature, which influences overall rates of evaporation and precipitation. Therefore, the global concentration of water vapor is not substantially affected by direct human emissions.

Let me get this straight, around 2% of the greenhouse effect is caused by carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, while the other 98% (water) is given a free pass by the EPA? When one looks at the EPA’s low hurdle of declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant, one would surmise water vapor would receive the same treatment. Water vapor, after all, is far and away Earth’s most significant greenhouse gas and comprises a notable proportion of manmade emissions related to burning fossil fuels. If the EPA applied its low standards equally, it would have to declare water a pollutant too—which would make it quite interesting as to how the EPA would define water pollution.

So, what is the endgame of (wrongly) vilifying carbon dioxide? George Reisman answers this question in his masterful article Environmentalism Refuted:

But while the intellectuals have turned against reason, science, and technology, they continue to support socialism and, of course, to oppose capitalism. They now do so in the form of environmentalism. It should be realized that environmentalism’s goal of global limits on carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions, as called for in the Kyoto treaty, easily lends itself to the establishment of world-wide central planning with respect to a wide variety of essential means of production. Indeed, an explicit bridge between socialism and environmentalism is supplied by one of the most prominent theorists of the environmental movement, Barry Commoner, who was also the Green Party’s first candidate for President of the United States.

If the EPA’s sloppy and contradictory standards can “logically” lead to the conclusion that water is a pollutant (but, for obvious reasons, they just won’t admit it), then clearly bureaucrats, intellectuals, politicians, and progressives have turned against reason and science. To be sure, there is a drive for world-wide central planning/socialism. Global warming, now deemed climate change, is socialism’s Trojan horse.

Finally, for those who want to read a book demolishing the assertion of anthropogenic climate change, I recommend reading Ian Plimer’s powerful book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science. Perhaps a copy should be sent to the EPA’s Administrator Gina McCarthy.