Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fallacious argument on climate change

The New York Times today discussed the growing controversy over global warming in American schools. This caught my attention:

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

I assume the authors are arguing that because CO2 is not a poison, growing CO2 emissions are no danger to the world. This argument is a non sequitur, meaning the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The statement is absolutely true--CO2 is not a pollutant; in fact it's essential to life on earth. Nevertheless, their argument is utterly fallacious. Scientists and politicians who are calling for reduction in CO2 emissions are arguing that too much of CO2 is dangerous to life on Earth, not that CO2 is per se a poison. Food analogy: I like chocolate cake, too, but 8 slices will make me sick. But I would not be tempted to argue chocolate cake was a poison.

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